Laughlin, Clarence John
Clarence John Laughlin was an extraordinarily
prolific American surrealist photographer who has consistently
produced disturbing and hauntingly beautiful images since the
late 1930s. He has combined still-lifes, abstractions, architectural
photos, and multiple exposures in an entirely original, romantic
mystical synthesis which has influenced the last few generations
of photographers and Jerry Uelsmann in particular.
Laughlin writes, "I did not start
out as a photographer but, instead, as a writer. Whether for
good or ill, this fact has inspired and colored many of my concepts
.... Through photography I have also tried to tie together and
further my active interests in painting, in poetry, in psychology,
and in architecture. Whatever value my photography has, it is
only because of these other interests."
Laughlin was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana.
He lived on a plantation neat New Iberia, and has spent most
of his life since 1910 in New Orleans. He attended high school
for one year in 1918. Obliged to support his family upon the
death of his father, he worked at a variety of jobs between 1924
Laughlin's early interests were with
the writings of Baudelaire, Rimbaud, and the French Symbolists,
who inspired him to write prose poems and stories. He began to
photograph in 1934, influenced by the work of Alfred Stleglitz,
Paul Strand, Edward Weston, Man Ray, and Eugéne Atget.
His first major project was the documentation of New Orleans
architecture, privately and as a Civil Service photographer for
the United States Engineer Corps in New Orleans from 1936 to
Laughlin's first one-man show was held
at the Isaac Delgado Museum, New Orleans, in 1936. His New Orleans
architectural work was exhibited in 1940 at the Julien Levy Gallery,
New York, along with photographs by Atget of Paris.
In 1940-1941 Laughlin did fashion photography
for Vogue in New York. During World War II, he first worked
for the Photography Department of the National Archives, then
served in the United States Army Signal Corps Photographic Unit
in Long Island City, New York, and with the U.S. Office of Strategic
Services, where he specialized in color photography.
Laughlin has earned his living since
1946 as a freelance photographer of contemporary architecture.
His book of photographs of Southern plantation mansions, Ghosts
Along the Mississippi, was published in 1948. It has since
been reprinted 20 times.
Since 1948 Laughlin has lectured throughout
the country on photographic aesthetics and American Victorian
architecture, which he has documented extensively in Chicago,
Milwaukee, St. Louis, San Francisco, and elsewhere. His photographs
have appeared in Harper's Bazaar, American Heritage, Architectural
Review, Life, Du, Aperture, Look, and Art News among
Since 1936 Laughlin has been the subject
of over 200 one-man shows, including exhibitions at the Museum
of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Smithsonian Institution, Washington,
D.C.; the Los Angeles County Museum; and George Eastman House,
Rochester, N.Y. A major retrospective of 229 photographs was
held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1973.
Laughlin was named an Associate of Research
at the University of Louisville in 1968, and has been the subject
of an Aperture monograph. Since 1974 he has concentrated on prose
writing and the care of his enormous library of fantasy literature.
A large portion of his body of over 17,000 sheet-film negatives
was donated to the University of Louisville Archives in 1970.