So jook joints, as a part of the cycle of cultural movement, as a key institution that blacks could rely on for private and autonomous space, were important to understanding the labor experience. How did this translate in Marion Post Wolcott's images? To get at how, as a photographer, she might have consciously or unconsciously brought these concerns into her photos of Belle Glade jook joints, requires a shift in direction. As a photographer, her task was to translate subject interests into visual terms; we have to change frameworks accordingly.

In Paul Hendrickson's biography of Marion Post Wolcott, there is a section where he describes going through piles of her photos with her, many years after she took them, when she was an elderly woman. They come to an image of four young black cotton pickers that she took in Mississippi in 1939. Of the photograph, she says:

These Negro boys. Their bodies are so beautiful, the way they're draped along this wooden bench. Look at how natural their clothing is. It just seems to flow off their bodies. This one here is like a dancer. I suppose that's what I saw, what I wanted to shoot. It was how elegant they were without really knowing it. (Hendrickson 261)

Looking at the image, we can see how this vision translated into the composition. The lines of their bodies are languorous, the sensation of their leaning against the bench almost tangible. There is a real physical weightiness to the image. In visual terms, what she says about the boys' dancerliness makes a lot of sense- when we consider the literal content of the image, however, it can seem a bit absurd. The boys are leaning against the bench because they are tired; it is the end of the day and they are waiting for their pay. In one sense, the drape of their bodies is elegance. In another, it is the material reality of their lives; young, dirty, laboring.




Juliet Gorman, May 2001