Returning from Europe, Marion was drawn to some of the most avant-garde of New York society. She'd relished the bohemian lifestyle of Weimar Vienna: "oh, you'd sit in wicker chairs at cafes- everybody did this- and read the paper forever with cafe mit schlag. Or Gossier Beir. If you weren't attending classes, you were at Trude's* or maybe going to some semiradical student meeting..." (Hendrickson 34). In New York, she began to socialize with members of the Group Theatre; Elia Kazan, Lee Strasberg, Morris Carnovsky, Clifford Odets, Harold Clurman, Stella Adler, and others. She started to photograph them backstage in their dressing rooms, right around the time when the Group Theatre was starting to come into some notoriety, with the splash of its production of Waiting for Lefty. The Group Theatre was looking to create "art for the masses;" they were interested in refining method acting and advocating their political agenda (Hendrickson 37).
At the Photo League in New York, where she attended meetings and used the darkroom, she studied pioneers of documentary photography like Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine (Hendrickson 40). This is also where she was introduced to Ralph Steiner and Paul Strand**, two figures who played a big role in directing her towards work with the FSA. Her professional experience was multiplying; she worked on location for a Strand-Steiner documentary film in Tennessee, doing the stills. The film was "an activist piece about labor organizing;" Elia Kazan and other influential figures were there (Hendrickson 41). Paul Strand ultimately wrote her letter of introduction to Roy Stryker at the Farm Security Administration, when she was looking to leave her job at Evening Bulletin in Philadelphia.
(You can browse the first letter she ever wrote to Roy Stryker, concerning the possibility of coming to work at the FSA in original form as well. You can also read his response (the first page is fuzzy), where he details the terms of the job and invites her to direct all further correspondence to his home.)
*Trude Fleischmann was a well-known photographer in Austria who worked with "available light" techniques and "photo-reporting." She ultimately emigrated to the United States and took portraits of Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, Sinclair Lewis, and others (Hendrickson 32).
** According to William Stott, Paul Strand was known for placing gold foil and a glittering false lens on the side of his camera to divert people's attention while he took the first candids (60).
Juliet Gorman, May 2001