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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Clarence John Laughlin

Dates:  1905, 14 August - 1985, 2 January
Born:  US, LA, Lake Charles
Died:  US, LA, New Orleans
Active:  US
American photographer specializing in the ‘Old South‘ - an area of abandoned plantations and graveyards around Mississippi and New Orleans. He was deeply interested in luminosity but also the hidden meanings and symbology of objects - both themes that repeatedly appear in his writings.

Preparing biographies

Biography provided by Focal Press 
Self-taught photographer who spent most of his life in New Orleans, Louisiana, amid a personal library of over 32,000 volumes about fantasy. Laughlin is best known for his haunting images of Victorian-era architecture and surreal, ghost-like multiple exposures. His freelance photography began in 1934 and he also worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before serving in the U.S. military during WWII. After the war he was self-employed (19461967) selling views and details of architecture, giving lectures, and illustrating magazine articles. Influenced by Atget, Man Ray, and the French symbolist poets, Laughlin produced twenty-three themed groups of images such as Poems of the Interior World (begun in 1940). Most of his photographs were accompanied by voluminous writings and captions which often filled the reverse side of many prints. His black and white camera work is best represented by disquieting scenes of deserted architectural splendor (or ruins) and more self-conscious efforts to populate these spaces with veiled figures and spiritual ghosts. Admirers of his work may find an abundant intellect also revealed in his poetry and prose. 
(Author: Ken White - Rochester Institute of Technology) 
Michael Peres (Editor-in-Chief), 2007, Focal Encyclopedia of Photography, 4th edition, (Focal Press) [ISBN-10: 0240807405, ISBN-13: 978-0240807409] 
(Used with permission) 

Further research

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If you have a portrait of this photographer or know of the whereabouts of one we would be most grateful.
Family history 
If you are related to this photographer and interested in tracking down your extended family we can place a note here for you to help. It is free and you would be amazed who gets in touch.

Visual indexes

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Supplemental information


Clarence John Laughlin

The Historic New Orleans Collection (THNOC) holds Laughlin's print, negative, and manuscript archive, which it makes available to the public for research. THNOC acquired the copyright in all of Laughlin's photographs and writings in 1981, via transfer from the artist. The archive consists of master prints (approximately 2,500 works so designated by Laughlin); negatives (approximately 12,000); work prints (approximately 15,000); and correspondence, manuscripts, notes, etc. filling nearly 90 "Hollinger" boxes.
The Williams Research Center of the Historic New Orleans Collection
410 Chartres Street
New Orleans, LA 70130
504-598-7171 (tel), 504-598-7168 (fax)
[Contributed by John H. Lawrence]  

Internet biographies

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Wikipedia has a biography of this photographer. Go to website
Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography. Go to website
Grove Art Online ( has a biography of this artist. 
[NOTE: This is a subscription service and you will need to pay an annual fee to access the content.]
 Go to website

Printed biographies

The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual photographers.

• Auer, Michele & Michel 1985 Encyclopedie Internationale Des Photographes de 1839 a Nos Jours / Photographers Encylopaedia International 1839 to the present (Hermance, Editions Camera Obscura) 2 volumes [A classic reference work for biographical information on photographers.] 
• Beaton, Cecil & Buckland, Gail 1975 The Magic Eye: The Genius of Photography from 1839 to the Present Day (Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown & Company) p.201 [Useful short biographies with personal asides and one or more example images.] 
• Capa, Cornell (ed.) 1984 The International Center of Photography: Encyclopedia of Photography (New York, Crown Publishers, Inc. - A Pound Press Book) p.296-297 
• Evans, Martin Marix (Executive ed.) 1995 Contemporary Photographers [Third Edition] (St. James Press - An International Thomson Publishing Company) [Expensive reference work but highly informative.] 
• Lenman, Robin (ed.) 2005 The Oxford Companion to the Photograph (Oxford: Oxford University Press)  [Includes a short biography on Clarence John Laughlin.] 
• Witkin, Lee D. and Barbara London 1979 The Photograph Collector’s Guide (London: Secker and Warburg) p.180-181 [Long out of print but an essential reference work - the good news is that a new edition is in preparation.] 

Useful printed stuff

If there is an analysis of a single photograph or a useful self portrait I will highlight it here.

• Gruber, Renate and L. Fritz Gruber 1982 The Imaginary Photo Museum (New York: Harmony Books) p.253 
• Szarkowski, John 1973 Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art (New York: The Museum of Modern Art) p.160 [Analyzes a single photograph by Clarence John Laughlin.] 


Photographic collections are a useful means of examining large numbers of photographs by a single photographer on-line. 

In the 1990 survey of 535 American photographic collections Clarence John Laughlin was represented in 55 of the collections. Source: Andrew H. Eskind & Greg Drake (eds.) 1990 Index to American Photographic Collections [Second Enlarged Edition] (Boston, Massachusetts: G.K. Hall & Co.) 


The wit and wisdom.

"I am not concerned, then, with photography in a narrow sense — its fascination for me is related to my interests in modern painting, in social questions, and in the nature of light and of time. The mystery of light, the enigma of time - form the twin pivots around which all my work resolves."
"I despise "arty" technique but I dislike equally the use of the camera as a mere recording instrument. I am trying, instead, to create purely visual poetry, and to use objects as symbols of states of mind."
"I feel convinced that whole new worlds lie about us, sheathed in what we call the "commonplaceness" of reality."
"I learned that the camera is a machine only when used mechanically, that it could be made to respond to the special vision of a particular imagination."
"In the most "commonplace" objects marvelous new realities lie hidden, ordinarily unperceived relationships of forms, new combinations or psychological connotations, new aggregates of symbolic meaning."
"It infuriates me to see people with the power and position try to stem the development of symbolic or hyper—real photography, and to force conformity on all photographers."
"My gradually evolved conviction that the camera could be used as an instrument to explore the mind of man, the inner world where man lives both by symbols and emotions, and that in achieving this, the camera would have been used in such a way that it became a direct extension of the luminous and super—sentient eye of the imagination - a third eye!"
"There have been only two chief and consistent concerns in my work: 1) luminosity — the magic of light itself; 2) the use of the object as a symbol, and hence, of the camera as a living instrument to probe the intangible psychological jungle in which every object is enmeshed."
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