Clarence John Laughlin


I think this might be my first fashion week-related post, and it’s not fashion-related at all. But I was reading this interview with the Alabama-based menswear designer Billy Reid and he mentioned that the sets for his new collection were inspired by the southern surrealist photographer Clarence John Laughlin, who I’d never heard of but was intrigued by the idea of.  And I looked him up online, and sure enough his photos were right up my alley.  Old crumbling plantations, black and white creepiness, silent film-style spectres (even though it seems that most of his photographs were taken a bit later, in the 1930s and ’40s), street scenes from Laughlin’s native New Orleans.

I found all these photos by doing random searches online, but I’m trying to get my hands on one of his books.  When I went to one of the Atlanta libraries yesterday to track down Ghosts Along The Mississippi I didn’t have any luck, so I might just buy a used copy off of Amazon.  I hear that he included rambling descriptions along with his photos and that to a lot of gallery owners they were just too rambling, but I think that will only make me like the photos more.  I love a good ramble.






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29 Comments

  1. Posted September 16, 2010 at 3:13 am | Permalink

    This looks beautiful. If you do get the book, I hope you’ll scan it for us. So wonderfully creepy and moody!

    Bea from A plus B

  2. Posted September 16, 2010 at 3:17 am | Permalink

    Delightfully creepy– I feel like reading some Poe.

  3. Posted September 16, 2010 at 3:27 am | Permalink

    Those photos are fantastic. He has all the creepiness of Diane Arbus intermingled with the beautiful scenery of Ansel Adams’ work. Lovely.

  4. Posted September 16, 2010 at 3:45 am | Permalink

    LOVE it.

  5. Posted September 16, 2010 at 3:51 am | Permalink

    I never really comment, but I love your blog and I just wanted to thank you for introducing me to Laughlin’s work!! Like you, I LOVE Southern Gothic literature and romantically creepy abandoned houses. These pictures are incredible; I can’t believe I’ve never heard of him. It’s kinda neat how the Windsor Ruins get photographed SO much, but despite the ubiquitous subject, Laughlin’s photo is still very original and stamped with his own style.

    • Posted September 18, 2010 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

      Dakota, thank you, I checked out your blog and I love it too! The Windsor Ruins do look extra creepy in that photo . . . I don’t know why I want to see them so badly but ever since I read about it in this old southern plantation book I’ve wanted to go visit.

  6. Posted September 16, 2010 at 4:45 am | Permalink

    Oh how I love a good ramble! That second one is amazing.

  7. Posted September 16, 2010 at 4:56 am | Permalink

    I love these a lot! Wish I could have done more crumbling old building exploration while in the south earlier this year. BUT, I am going on a funny ghost town tour in eastern Oregon at the end of the month! Different vibe but should still be cool.

    • Posted September 18, 2010 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

      Ghost town tour!!?? Will you blog about it? Because that sounds amazing.

  8. Posted September 16, 2010 at 5:22 am | Permalink

    gorgeous photos… im intrigued to see more of his work…
    Miss M

  9. Lauren
    Posted September 16, 2010 at 5:30 am | Permalink

    WOW these are great photographs!
    The second one is gorgeous. I’ve been trying to capture some good double exposures when I was at an old graveyard south of San Francisco.
    LOVE these so much. And they were taken during one of my favourite eras!

    • Posted September 18, 2010 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, I love the ’30s/’40s view of old antebellum plantations/life, even though it tends to be old south romanticized.

  10. dominika
    Posted September 16, 2010 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    thanks for the tip, I’m going through his photographs now and love it

  11. Posted September 16, 2010 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    Hauntingly beautiful. These are the kind of pictures I imagine night-time stories are inspired by.

    By the way, I was browsing through the Dossier site and discovered this brand you might like; Honor. The lookbook is astonishingly pretty (I know that’s such a bland word, but it really is an apt description in this case!) There’s a lovely write-up in the style section of Dossier Journal: http://dossierjournal.com/style/fashion/honor-spring-2011/

    • Posted September 18, 2010 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

      Heleen, thank you! I heard about that on Siri’s blog and fell in love with it! It’s so light and pretty, and the Dossier photos make everything look even hazier and more gorgeous.

  12. Posted September 16, 2010 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    Oh my. These photos are just mesmerizing; I love the way he captured the decaying, slightly creepy look of some of the old Southern spots. Awesome. If you do get a copy of that book, be sure to post about it (please! ;)! Thanks for researching and sharing a new photographer with us, Rhiannon. I really enjoy these sort of geeky/obscure subjects that you post about!

    ♥ Casey
    blog | elegantmusings.com

    • Posted September 18, 2010 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

      Aww, I’m glad you like them! I’m hoping to get to another library today (it’s all I want to do this weekend!) so hopefully I’ll get my hands on one of his books. :)

  13. lesle
    Posted September 16, 2010 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    Rhiannon, try Frances Benjamin Johnston …

    http://www.shorpy.com/Frances_Benjamin_Johnston

    There’s a excellent short biography of Frances Benjamin Johnston here. Her amazing life included, among many other things, White House Photographer to Presidents. If I may, quoting the last three paragraphs from Johnston’s Clio profile.

    She went about the South in a chauffeur-driven automobile locating old buildings, and it was said that she could “smell out an old colonial house five miles off the highway.” Her mission was not to photograph the prominent homes of colonial America, which, she argued, had already “been photographed often and well.” Rather, she sought “the old farm houses, the mills, the log cabins of the pioneers, the country stores, the taverns and inns, in short those buildings that had to do with the everyday life of the colonists.” She did her work well, and two books resulted from this venture, “Early Architecture of North Carolina” and “Early Architecture of Georgia.” In 1945 she was awarded an honorary membership in the American Institute of Architects.

    Johnston moved to New Orleans in 1940 and entered a life of semi-retirement. Always independent, she lived a rather lonely life in her last years, but her energy did not subside. She bought a run-down house on the “respectable” end of Bourbon Street and transformed its dilapidated courtyard into a beautiful garden with a small pool. Continuing to pursue her interests in gardening, she often went out in her old Buick to give lectures. Her active days in the darkroom were over, even though she maintained a photographic work area in an alcove off her bathroom.

    Age was slowing her down. She walked with a cane, and her doctor weaned her from bourbon, so she drank cherry wine instead. Even at this stage of her life she remained staunchly indomitable. “I’ve learned not to depend on the Lord. I’ll make the changes myself.” She loved to roam the French Quarter and sit in bars and talk. Once when someone recognized her as a famous photographer, she agreed, “Yes, I’m the greatest woman photographer in the world.”

    • Posted September 18, 2010 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

      Lesle,

      Once again, thank you!!! You always have the best suggestions . . . I checked out Frances’ photography, and yes, it’s also right up my alley. I can’t get enough of photographs of old crumbling places in the south, and the ’30s/’40s versions are so much more interesting than modern ones. I need to check out Shorpy more than I do.

  14. Posted September 16, 2010 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    like the pictures. its so dark and so intense, but in the same time- the pictures freaks me out.. a little scaary but beautiful !

  15. Posted September 16, 2010 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful pictures so haunting xoxo

  16. Posted September 16, 2010 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    i’ve immediately begun looking up his photos. that last one closely resembles the palace of fine arts! i hope you got to see it when you were here in san francisco!!

  17. Posted September 16, 2010 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

    This is awesome – I’m not usually one for dark, mysterious, gothic artwork, but this seems to draw me in somehow. J’adore.

  18. Posted September 16, 2010 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing. These are lovely: I particularly like the second one where it appears that great jaws are closing around the woman.

  19. Rosa&Carlotta
    Posted September 18, 2010 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    such an inspiration!

    check out my fashion illustrations at http://www.illustrated-moodboard.com/ :)

  20. Summar
    Posted September 18, 2010 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    The photos are so alluring. When I look at them I feel as if I’m really there. I suppose it’s because when I daydream about the past, I see everything in black and white. These images just make my daydreams more lifelike.

  21. Chelsea
    Posted September 20, 2010 at 6:40 am | Permalink

    Hi Rhiannon,
    I love your blog. My university showed a documentary on Laughlin a few years ago that is really great. It’s called, Clarence John Laughlin: An Artist with A Camera. I had forgotten all about him and the film until I saw the introductory photo. Not only did he produce amazing photographs but he had a really extensive library. The film really gives you a sense of who he was and it leaves you feeling a bit of the eeriness that he captured in his photos. It is definitely worth watching.

  22. Posted September 22, 2010 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

    these photos are absolutely gorgeous

  23. Amy
    Posted September 26, 2010 at 3:37 am | Permalink

    Thank you so much for posting these beautiful photographs.

    I went and checked out a book of Clarence John Laughlin’s work at the library too! It’s a revelation.

One Trackback

  • By Frances Benjamin Johnston on October 31, 2012 at 2:51 am

    [...] I did a post on southern gothic photographer Clarence John Laughlin, oh, two years ago, one of my top favorite commenters, Lesle, mentioned that I might want to check [...]

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