Clarence John Laughlin


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Clarence John Laughlin is probably my favorite photographer. I discovered his work when I was in college, probably through A.D. Coleman's "The Grotesque in Photography" (out of print, but worth a look). His work probably best fits within the rubric of Surrealism. He was influenced by a lot of the same Symbolist literature, was in contact with Ray and Breton, and was included in a 1942 Surrealist exhibition. A lot of his work is concerned memory, history, and the hidden realities in the world around us. But I think he could also be treated within the context of the Southern Gothic, since lots of his work concerns that particular history, and there's a dark romanticism to much of it.

Another thing that always interested me in his work is the use of double exposures or layered negatives. Unfortunately, only one example of that here. I couldn't find better quality examples of the specific pieces that came to mind.

Titles are worth including, since many are quite poetic and provide some meaning.


The Bat, 1940


The Enigma, 1941


The Improbable Dome (No. 1), 1965


“The Black Gates of Oblivion” (1940)


“The Search for Identity, Number Three” (1941)


“The House of Hysteria” (1941)


The Masks Grow To Us, 1950

Laughlin - Spiral--s.jpg

(Source didn't have title/date, but it's one of my favorites, so I'm including it anyway! Laughlin has a few pieces involving spirals and staircases.)
I like most of these a lot. But the staircase reminds me of something that a lot of filmmakers and photographers do. Since staircases were done in Hitchcock movies from the 30s, and also in Citizen Kane (not a spiral one however), seems like everyone has this shot in their repertoire.
That's totally fair about spiral staircases being a ubiquitous subject. As I noted, Laughlin has *a lot* of staircase photos and seems to have been fascinated with these spiral forms. I can't find a better version of this one, but the staircase in this one is more abstract and starts to look simply like a spiral form. I always remembered reading it initially as a shell.


Another cool one in this vein:


It's funny, Citizen Kane is one of my favorite movies, I've seen it at least a dozen times, and couldn't at first remember any scenes with cinematography focused on a staircase. But I guess there is one! The staircase in Magnificent Ambersons sticks out more in my mind for some reason.
Those are cool!

Yes, I was just thinking about first appearances. Hitchcock, from the get-go was fascinated by stairs of every ilk, from his very first film, which begins on a spiral staircase (but not an overhead shot), to his last. Then there was a movie in 1946 called The Spiral Staircase (different director), but by then, everyone is starting to be inspired by previous films... And on it goes.