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Like French photographer Eugène Atget, who is inseparable from his vast and loving portrait of the city of Paris, Clarence John Laughlin is closely identified with his photographs of New Orleans. Laughlin was interested in capturing the city’s architectural heritage and worked as a photographer for the U.S. Engineer Corps from 1936 to 1941 to document mausoleums, antebellum mansions, and other distinctive buildings. He came to view architecture as the ideal union of nature and culture and therefore as one of the highest and most significant creations of mankind.
Laughlin used architecture as a point of departure for his own poetic explorations of human psychology. Many of his pictures of abandoned, decaying structures have a haunting quality that the artist heightened with shadows or shrouded figures to suggest an atmosphere clouded with layers of history and memories. His wonderfully poetical titles add another element of suggestiveness to the works and reflect the artist’s interest in the writings of French Symbolists such as Charles Baudelaire. The exhibition is drawn from the Museum’s collection of more than 250 photographs made by Laughlin between 1940 and the mid-1960s in Louisiana, across the United States, and abroad.