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Clarence John Laughlin 1905-1985
Detail from photograph of John Clarence Laughlin at the age of 75
taken by Jonathan Williams of the Jargon Society.
Click below to read Mr. Williams' beautiful and
insightful essay on Mr. Laughlin.

"The Shadow of His Equipage"

Miscellaneous Biographical Notes on John Clarence Laughlin:

Laughlin, Clarence John

American, 1905-85

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 and 1935.

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 1941.

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 other publications.

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.

Clarence John Laughlin (1905-1985)

Photographer, writer, architectural historian, bibliophile, poet of the imagination, Clarence John Laughlin was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana and spent most of his life in and around New Orleans. Largely self-taught, influenced by Alfred Steiglitz, Edward Weston and others, Laughlin first began taking photographs in the early 1930s. During a working career spanning four decades, Laughlin created one of the largest and most original bodies of photographic art of the 20th Century. He continued to photograph actively until 1967 and lectured and wrote until his death in 1985.

Laughlin became best known for his collection of photographs and essays, "Ghosts Along the Mississippi." The book, published in 1948, centered on Louisiana manor houses evolving from the plantation culture which flourished along the Mississippi River before the Civil War. With unusual photographic effects and careful attention to light, Laughlin transmogrified the decaying houses according to his own surrealistic vision. While devoted to the documentation of historic structures, Laughlin had an equally passionate commitment to a highly personal application of photography to evoke the underlying mystery of the world. He freely used multiple exposures, theatrical stagings and lengthy captions to bridge the gap between the visible world and a metaphysical realm of fantasy and intuition. His synthesis of high and vernacular art, literature, mythology, psychology, and history represents a uniquely inclusive and stimulating artistic vision.

The work of Clarence John Laughlin has been the subject of exhibitions in museums and galleries throughout the world. His prints are in collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Phillips Collection, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Fogg Museum in Cambridge, the New Orleans Museum of Art and other museums worldwide.

Clarence John Laughlin

Self-taught photographer Clarence John Laughlin (1905-1985) spent most of his entire career in and around New Orleans. Dubbed "Edgar Allan Poe with a camera," Laughlin and his haunting images capture -- like nothing before or since -- the weathered elegance and dreamy decadence of Louisiana's buildings, streets, and cemeteries.

After experimenting with photography in the early 1930s, Laughlin devoted himself to the medium in 1935 and had his first showing a year later. In 1948 his book on Louisiana's plantation architecture, Ghosts Along the Mississippi, vaulted him into the pantheon of great American photographers. He continued photographing actively until 1967, while lecturing and writing up until his death in 1985. Over the course of his lengthy career, Laughlin produced more than 17,000 negatives and a large collection of writings on the art of photography.

Clarence John Laughlin, American, b. 1905 - d. 1985

A prolific American surrealist photographer whose imagery and photographic aesthetics have influenced several generations of image makers. Laughlin's photographs have been the topic of numerous exhibitions at venues such as the Smithsonian Institution and the George Eastman House and many important monographs, among them, Ghosts Along the Mississippi, (1948), has been reprinted twenty times. Laughlin's contribution to the history of his medium is recorded in every major anthology on the history of photography and readily visible in the photographs he created.

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