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Marion Post, Photographer of Cane River Creoles

Family on porch
Family at the Bayou Borbeau Plantation in Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana by Marion Post Wolcott, 1939 (LOC).

During the Great Depression, the federal government under Franklin Roosevelt developed the Farm Security Administration. The purpose of the FSA was to document how the people of the U.S. were faring during the economic downtown, and specifically, how well the government programs implemented by the 2nd New Deal were taking effect. The agency hired photographers, writers, and artists to provide evidence, and Marion Post became the first female photographer hired by the FSA.

Post grew up in New Jersey and studied dance in Europe, but she left as facism grew around her; when she returned to the U.S., she and her sister helped in immigrating Jewish people fleeing Nazism. She then studied photography and, after a while, got her first professional job at a daily newspaper, where her photography equipment was ruined when "male photographers urinated in her photography chemicals and extinguished their cigarettes in her developing trays."

Marion Post persevered, though. She took hundreds of photographs for the FSA, capturing the lives and times of hard working people throughout the eastern and southern United States. In particular, she developed an entire series about the people of the Cane River in Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana. She marveled at this remote place where time seemed to have stood still: she found French-speaking people who worked as domestics, sharecropped the land, lived under plantation schemes inside raised homes without modern conveniences, and who enjoyed Sunday evening fish-frys.

The people of the Cane and Red River bayous in Natchitoches Parish are Creole, a mix of ethnicities that include African, Caribbean, Caddoan (and Yattasee, Alabama, Cousatta, Apache, Panis and other tribes), French, and Spanish ancestry. Their legacy is now enshrined in the Cane River Creole National Historic Area just south of Natchitoches, where timbered, post-in-ground homes along roads that wind around bayous stand next to French-Creole plantation mansions.

Marion Post (later, Marion Post Wolcott) was the first photographer to document the Cane River Creole culture of Louisiana. She also photographed Cajuns and noted the distinction between the two cultures. She may be not as well-known a photographer as Dorothea Lange, Margaret Mead, or Arthur Rothenstein from this era, but her cannon or work, now housed at the Library of Congress, deserves a thorough look.

Marion Post's ID paper that explained her purpose to those curious about her and her equipment (LOC).

Post described this photo as "Daughter of a mulatto family returning home after fishing in the Cane River near Melrose, Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana" (LOC).

My favorite photograph along the Cane River: the Melrose Juke Joint, 1939 (LOC).

A "mulatto's home" at Melrose Plantation by Marion Post, 1939 (LOC).

A plantation store at Chopin, Cane River by Marion Post, 1939 (LOC).

The Melrose store and post office by Marion Post, 1939 (LOC). Love the Adirondack chairs!


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