Clarence John Laughlin (1905 - 2 January 1985) was a United States photographer, best known for his surrealist photographs of the U.S. South.
Laughlin was born in to a middle class family in Lake Charles, Louisiana. His rocky childhood, southern heritage, and interest in literature influenced his work greatly. His family lost everything
in a failed rice growing venture in 1910, and were forced to relocate to New Orleans where Laughlin's father took on a factory job. Laughlin was an introverted child with few friends and a close relationship
with his father, who cultivated and encouraged his lifelong love of literature. Laughlin was devastated when his father died
1918, and his grief was compounded by a Priest's false promise that God would save his ailing parent if he prayed hard enough. This left Laughlin with a deep suspicion of religion that surfaces frequently in his work. He dropped out of high school in 1920, after having barely completed his freshman year,
he was self-educated and highly literate. His large vocabulary and love of language are evident in the elaborate and often
pretentious captions he would later write to accompany his photographs. His early aspiration was to be a writer, and he wrote
many poems and stories in the style of French symbolism. He tried for many years to publish his work, but was largely unsuccessful. He discovered photography when he was 25, and
taught himself how to use a simple 2 1/2 by 2 1/4 view camera. He began working as a freelance architectural photographer, then moved on to be employed by such varied agencies as Vogue Magazine and the US government. He disliked the constraints of government work, and eventually split from Vogue after a conflict with
then-editor Edward Steichen. Thereafter, he worked almost exclusively on personal projects utilizing a wide range of photographic styles and techniques,
from straightforward geometric abstractions of architectural features to elaborately staged allegories utilizing models, costumes,
His work contains many elements of surrealism, which was more common in European photography at the time. Many historians
actually credit him as being the first true surrealist photographer in the United States. Laughlin’s images are often
nostalgic, he was influenced by Eugene Atget and other historical purists who tried to capture a vanishing urban landscape.
Laughlin himself was something of a luddite, preferring older photographic equipment, and showing little interest in new
technologies as they arrived. He was friends with Edward Weston and corresponded with many other prominent artists of his time.
His best known book, "Ghosts Along the Mississippi", was first published in 1948.
Laughlin died on January 2nd 1985, leaving behind a massive collection of books and images. He kept careful records to
go along with the 17,000 negatives accompanied by extensive notes on how to print them. His work continues to be shown around
the United States and Europe, and there are several books of his work currently in print.
A Vision of Dead Desire
Clarence John Laughlin was born near Lake Charles, LA in 1905.
He moved to New Orleans at a young age, and resided there
until his death in 1985.
Haunting, elegiac, and surrealist images of the
ruins of New Orleans and the vanishing plantation South.
Most Popular Images:
"Enigma"; "Receding Rectangles"
Did you know ... ?
• Laughlin was a self-taught photographer.
was an avid bibliophile. At the time of his death, his personal library consisted of some 30,000 volumes.
felt that his photographs were incomplete if he failed to give them an appropriate title and caption; the captions sometimes
ran to several type-written pages.
"Photography is one of the most authentic and integral modes
of expression possible in this world in which we live."
"The physical object, to me, is merely a stepping stone to an inner world where the object, with the help of the subconscious
drives and focuses perceptions, becomes transmuted into a symbol whose life is beyond the life of the objects we know..."
Silver gelatin photographs of varying dimensions,
usually 11" x 14".
How many photographs exist?
Laughlin printed in very small unnumbered editions (ten
or less except for 2 or 3 images)
$1,500 - $15,000
How are the photographs printed and signed?
Usually signed au verso,
sometimes au recto, often with Laughlin's own hand-written or
type-written captions, mounted on board, and lacquered.
A few vintage photographs are available. Vintage means
that the print date is at or near the same time as the negative date.
During the Great Depression, Laughlin taught
himself the fundamentals of the medium using simple cameras and home-made enlarging equipment.
Ghosts Along the Mississippi
Haunter of Ruins
A Gallery for Fine Photography has a
superlative selection of original photographs by
Clarence John Laughlin.
1975: $25 - $100
1985: $600 - $1,000
1995: $1,500 - $7,500