The Sarasota They Saw

By ericg January 1, 2009

Every visitor with a camera knows that Sarasota is the perfect subject for photography—the beautiful water, tropical foliage and intense, dazzling sunlight. In fact, our town has attracted and inspired some of the true greats of 20th-century photography. They were drawn by the exotic and little-known landscape, the excitement of the circus and the emergence of the sun-splashed Florida lifestyle that soon became the envy of the world.

Here is some of our favorite work by four of them. Marion Post Wolcott, who was a female pioneer of sorts when she traveled the country alone as a Farm Security Administration photographer during the 1930s, was captivated by scenes of happy Northerners relaxing on our beaches and in our trailer park communities. Walker Evans, who rose to fame chronicling Depression-era America, came to Sarasota in 1941 to take photographs for Karl Bickel’s book The Mangrove Coast; his images of this still remote land became instant classics and are now in the Getty Museum.

The deceptively simple photographs of Sarasota’s Joseph Steinmetz are known around the world as expressions of the fabled Florida lifestyle of the 1950s and ‘60s; today they are in the collection of Harvard University’s Fogg Museum.

Loomis Dean grew up in Sarasota; as a young man, he crisscrossed the country as the official photographer of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. It was his photo of famous clown Lou Jacobs with a giraffe, opposite, that won him his first Life cover—he eventually shot 52. (Dean returned to Sarasota in the 1990s and did a number of photo stories for us before his death.) 

All four are gone, but their evocative images live on, in our memories and in museums around the world. The work they did here has earned Sarasota a place in the history of photography.


From a failed attempt at glamour (John Ringling's unfinished Ritz-Carlton hotel on Longboat Key) to a coastal landscape, Evan's Sarasota pictures captured a certain light, a certain mood.



Unlike Evans, who spent only a short time in Sarasota, Steinmetz lived and worked here for years, taking iconic photographs from 1941 well into the 1970s.

Young lovelies play a game called Gobi at Lido Beach.

The perfect hostess, circa 1960, prepares to serve her guests.

A Longboat Key beach scene from 1958.

Happiness in a mobile home, 1954.


In a professional life filled with international excitement, Dean returned often to the town where he grew up, and to the circus performers who helped make it famous.

If you’re interested in purchasing work by Loomis Dean, you can contact

Christopher Dean, [email protected], or (415) 456-0552.


In 1941, Marion Post (later Wolcott) found fertile field for her lens in Sarasota, especially in our trailer parks.

Proud fishermen

A rather formal beach picnic.

Amish farmers from Pennsylvania surveying local farming methods.

Shuffleboard players.

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