Clarence John Laughlin


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Photographer. Known for romantic, sometimes surrealistic images that intimate a reality beyond appearances, he freely employed double exposures, staged scenes, montage, and other stratagems to realize his fantasies. In unmanipulated photographs, he masterfully captured unstable moments of great delicacy and poetic implication. Although he shared the South's fascination with its own grandeur and decay, his ambitions transcended regional concerns. Spurred by imagination and love of literature, he dreamed of devising visual equivalents for psychological states and inventing a mythology of the modern world, uniting subjective and objective realities. In his creative process, memory and desire served as constant companions. Born in Lake Charles, Louisiana, he grew up in New Orleans. He wrote poetry inspired by French symbolism before turning to photography in the mid-1930s. His early work, devoted primarily to architectural photography, culminated in Ghosts Along the Mississippi (1948), a study of plantation houses. Indicating overtly more surrealistic interests, in 1939 he initiated a sustained series of theatrical images titled Poems of the Interior World, in which he attempted to symbolize the psychological tensions of war-torn Western civilization. Until younger photographers revalidated his nonpurist approach in the 1960s, Laughlin remained the most important American link to the fictional forms of photography that had, for the most part, vanished with pictorialism. He died in New Orleans. Laughlin also published New Orleans and Its Living Past (1941), Photographs of Victorian Chicago (1968), and Clarence John Laughlin: The Personal Eye (1973).

Subjects: Art.

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