Organized by the Historic New Orleans Collection
John H. Lawrence, Curator
The enigmatic photographer Clarence John Laughlin (1905–85), labeled a surrealist, romantic, modernist, postmodernist, and/or fantasist by successive commentators, is indeed famously difficult to categorize. Nearly two dozen distinct bodies of work exist among the more than 17,000 pictures he created between 1930 and 1965. Drawn from the collection of the Historic New Orleans Collection, Haunter of Ruins presents an eclectic selection of the decaying monuments and Southern landscapes that made the photographer famous, along with a number of mysterious still lifes, portraits, and cemetery views that reveal the photographer’s decidedly Gothic sensibility.
Driven to extend “the individual object into a larger and more significant reality,” Laughlin, with the help of a profound imagination and razor-sharp intelligence, transformed the relatively banal features of the landscape into symbols that lead from the prosaic to the sublime.
Interpretive texts, written and rewritten by the artist himself, accompany the exhibition and provide valuable information about Laughlin’s own continuously evolving view of his work. The interrelationships between image and text, fact and metaphor fascinated Laughlin throughout his life and charge his photographs with a peculiar tension. A complicated dance between viewer as participant in the image and the will of the photographer is played out in Laughlin’s photographs, highlighting a contest of meaning that has occupied discussions of art in the last several years.
In this sense, Laughlin was thinking and photographing well ahead of his peers, breaking free of the fuzzy romanticism or attempts at objectivity that engaged so many of his generation. Haunter of Ruins, with its volume of essays by writers such as Andrei Codrescu and Ellen Gilchrist, explores the shifting ground on which Laughlin staged his photographic dramas without diminishing the expansive scope of his idiosyncratic vision or the inherent mystery of his fascinating legacy.
NUMBER OF WORKS: 65 gelatin silver prints
TOUR DATES: October 1997 - March 1999
SUPPORT MATERIALS: Publication, Bulfinch Press, 1997