Thinking about New Orleans: Photography

It’s a Friday, and you have another weekend to consider your trip and make plans to attend the annual ARLIS/NA conference this coming February — which is fast-approaching. We will be in the beautiful city of New Orleans for Arts du Monde. Registration will be open online on the first of November, in only a few more days!

We recently examined NOLA-centric films, so let’s take a look (of course!) at still photography related to New Orleans. When it comes to photography collections, New Orleans is the proverbial embarrassment of riches, but here are just few of interest.

Seated Woman, Storyville, New Orleans, by E. J. Bellocq (print by Dan Leyrer), ca. 1912.
Seated Woman, Storyville, New Orleans, by E. J. Bellocq (print by Dan Leyrer), ca. 1912.

A 1978 film mentioned in my last post on Movies, Pretty Baby, relates to photographer John Ernest Joseph Bellocq (1873–1949) as well as to his photographs. Bellocq, well-known for his images of New Orleans’ prostitutes in the Red Light district called Storyville, also worked as a professional photographer making local views and doing copy work.

After Bellocq’s death, his brother, a Jesuit priest, inherited his negatives, and those negatives were eventually acquired by photographer Lee Friedlander, who printed them. Friedlander and MOMA curator John Szarkowski exhibited those prints at the Museum of Modern Art and in 1970 they produced E.J. Bellocq Storyville Portraits (Little Brown & Co.).

In addition to the film, several novels have featured a Bellocq-character. Read more about the real Bellocq in this Smithsonian magazine article.

The Historic New Orleans Collection holds the earliest known photographic views of New Orleans on paper. These salted paper prints were made by photographer J. Dearborn Edwards in 1858-1861. Edwards eventually moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where he, known by then as J.D. Edwards, and his son and other family members, ran one of that city’s most prominent photograph studios for many years.

In 2009 The Historic New Orleans Collection produced an exhibit and accompanying catalog based on “The Antebellum Photographs of Jay Dearborn Edwards” called A Closer Look. That publication is an excellent examination of Edwards’s work, placing it in the context of the city’s cultural life and in relation to other nineteenth and twentieth century photographers’ work.

Another first in New Orleans photography was the first municipally-sponsored photographic survey of any American city. The photographer was Theordore Lilienthal (1829-1894), and his 150 large albumen prints were shown at the 1867 Paris Exposition. One of four American photographers (including Carlton Watkins) exhibiting there, Lilienthal won a Paris prize medal. Several of the buildings he photographed in the late 1860s were destroyed or seriously damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

An excellent book on the man, his work, and urban topographic photography, is New Orleans 1867 – Photographs by Theordore Lilienthal, by Gary A. Van Zante (Merrell Pubishers Limited, 2008). Many of Lilienthal’s photographs are at Tulane’s Southeastern Architectural Archive, others are at the Louisiana State Museum.

Another past exhibit of the HNOC, The Katrina Decade: Images of an Altered City, focused on the images made by New Orleans–based photographer David G. Spielman. See some of these amazing photos at

Keep in mind that there will be a tour to The Hogan Jazz Archive Photo Collection, as well as to other Tulane University collections, offered to attendees of ARLIS/NA’s upcoming annual meeting. In the Jazz Archive there are over 6,000 images of New Orleans Jazz documenting “people, places and events important to the study of New Orleans jazz.” Represented are photographs by Ernest Bellocq, Arthur P. Bedou, Lee Friedlander, Michael P. Smith and many, many others.

zydeco-coverSpeaking of music, Ben Sandmel, who will be a panelist on “Pulse Points and Backbeats,” the Music Plenary at our February NOLA meeting, is a folklorist, music journalist, producer, musician, and author. His publication Zydeco! (University Press of Mississippi, 1999) was produced in collaboration with photographer Rick Olivier. Olivier, an award-winning New Orleans photographer, is represented in the permanent collections of both the New Orleans Museum of Art and the Historic New Orleans Collection.

Olivier made his prints for Zydeco! “in the style of classic black and white silver gelatin” — read more on his project here.

You see? Here are even more reasons to be in New Orleans in early February for the annual conference of ARLIS/NA, it is truly Arts du Monde!
E. Lee Eltzroth, ARLIS-NA 2017 publicity coordinator

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