(b Lake Charles, LA, 14 Aug 1905; d New Orleans, LA, 2 Jan
American photographer. He spent his early childhood on a plantation in
Louisiana before moving to New Orleans in 1910. A self-taught photographer,
he began photographing in 1935, influenced by Baudelaire and French
Symbolist poets. Initially imitating the objective photography of
contemporaries Paul Strand and Edward Weston, he came to believe in the
pursuit of his own visions and by 1939 considered his life’s work begun.
Laughlin photographed what he came to describe as ‘the third world of
photography’, concentrating on the remnants of the ‘Old South’; he produced
images of crumbling plantations, graveyards and shadowy figures, visual
parallels to novels by such writers as William Faulkner and Carson McCullers.
He posed veiled women to represent spirits bearing the weight of history and
often used double exposure and contrasts of light and shadow to invest
inanimate objects with fearful possibilities, or to increase illusionistic
possibilities—as in In the Cage (1940), an image of a child behind a
louvre-door, the shadows cast on him like bars of a cage. A work such as
Moss Monster (1946) demonstrates his ability to turn natural phenomena
into a Surrealist image.
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