April 2023: MIT’s Gary Van Zante on Theodore Lilienthal and His New Orleans Portfolio at the 1867 Paris World’s Fair
Posted: March 27, 2023 | By: Journal Editor
PHSNE welcomes MIT Museum Curator Gary Van Zante and his presentation on Theodore Lilienthal’s portfolio of New Orleans views exhibited at the 1867 Paris World’s Fair. The meeting via Zoom begins Sunday, April 2, 2023 at 7:30PM EDT. PHSNE meetings are open to the public—Sign Up Now to receive PHSNE emails with meeting details and other information.
Van Zante’s talk, “An American City on Exhibition: Theodore Lilienthal’s Photographs of New Orleans for the Paris World’s Fair of 1867,” includes the recent discovery of Lilienthal’s portfolio. It is now recognized as one of the supreme achievements of nineteenth century urban photography in America, and the first known municipally-sponsored photographic survey of an American city.
Among the first generation of photographers in New Orleans, Theodore Lilienthal (1831-1894) was one of the city’s most successful nineteenth century photographic entrepreneurs; his work as a portraitist and view maker was unsurpassed in the Civil War and Reconstruction era. At the height of his commercial success, in the 1870s and early 1880s, he operated one of the largest studios in the South. His most important work survives in a portfolio of views of New Orleans executed for the Paris Exposition of 1867.
In early 1867, the New Orleans city council ordered a series of photographs of the major architectural and commercial features of the city to be exhibited at the Paris fair, and for presentation to Emperor Napoleon III of France. Lilienthal, a successful publisher of topographic stereo views of the city, was in the best position to carry out the work. Entitled “New Orleans and Its Environs,” his Paris portfolio of 150 large (11×15) albumen photographs achieved significant recognition at the Exposition.
In the economically-depressed conditions of post-Civil War New Orleans, city boosters conceived of Lilienthal’s photographs as a publicity tool to revitalize overseas trade and attract European immigration and investment. Lilienthal’s photographs depicted a vigorous American port city of commerce and culture—undiminished by war.
This accomplishment is as remarkable as Lilienthal himself, once prominent in the photographic fraternity at time, he is all but unknown today. Both his career and the photographs follow the trajectory of early recognition, loss and obscurity, and later rediscovery, which pioneer photographic historian Robert Taft identified as characteristic of Civil War-era photographic practice.
Van Zante is Curator of Architecture, Design and Photography at the MIT Museum. He has curated or organized over 80 exhibitions, ranging from American daguerreotype portraiture to contemporary photography of South Africa. He has focused on urban and architectural photography in his research. A research professor in the history of photography at the University of Paris VII, he is the author of books on nineteenth century urban photography in New Orleans, and German photographer Ulrich Wüst, published by Kerber Verlag, Berlin, in 2022.
What the heck…
Are Those Even Cameras?!
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