Film Professor Documents Lost Grandeur of South
The haunting, black-and-white images of New Orleans' faded plantation culture as captured by surrealist photographer Clarence John Laughlin is the subject of a new documentary film by Dr. Michael Frierson, a professor of broadcasting and cinema at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and Michael Murphy.
The film, "Clarence John Laughlin: An Artist with a Camera," made its world premiere in New Orleans in December.
A self-taught photographer, Laughlin captured the crumbling plantation houses, enigmatic graveyards and iconographic, vanishing landscapes of New Orleans and the South during a career that began in the 1930s and ended in the 1980s.
"Laughlin's nearly 17,000 photographs are a historical record of what New Orleans has lost," said Frierson, who has lived and taught in New Orleans. "Laughlin was an eccentric, but fortunately New Orleans is very accepting of eccentric people."
In an era when photography was not yet regarded as an art form, Laughlin explored the creative uses of the camera inspired by surrealist photographers such as Man Ray and Eugne Atget to create images that melded artistic techniques such as the use of props and costumes with a documentarian's eye for detail and historical record.
In addition to New Orleans, Laughlin traveled across the United States photographing buildings before they were torn down and replaced by what he considered soulless construction.
Frierson has produced short films for Nickelodeon, Children's Television Workshop and NETA. He is the author of "Clay Animation: American Highlights 1908 to the Present," which won the McLaren-Lambert Award from the National Film Board of Canada for the Best Scholarly Book on Animation.
His forthcoming documentary "Klan-FBI" depicts the relationship between an FBI special agent, Frierson's father, and his informant, a high-ranking Klan officer, during the turbulent years of the civil rights movement in North Carolina.
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