Polk attended Tuskegee Institute in Alabama studying with African-American photographer C. M. Battey, but was barred from further studies at photography schools due to his race. Instead, he completed a correspondence course and eventually opened up his own studio, becoming Tuskegee’s official photographer. His images of African-Americans in the rural south during the 1930s portrayed citizens with dignity and sensitivity. When he created his striking 1932 portrait titled The Boss, Polk offered this powerful explanation:
To be portrayed in her own matter-of-factness: confident, hard working, adventuresome, assertive and stern. The pose, at an angle, and her expression, authoritative and firm, are not the result of my usual tactics to encourage a response. She wears her own clothes. She is not cloaked in victimization. She is not pitiful; therefore, she is not portrayed in pitiful surroundings. She is not helpless, and she is not cute. Instead she projects notions of independence, and is powerful in appearance, and is, by title, the boss.