The Masks Grow to Us


Clarence John Laughlin (American, 1905–1985)




Gelatin silver print


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Purchase with funds from Robert Yellowlees

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On View

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Though composed like an ordinary shoulder-length portrait, this photograph has fractured layers that give it an eerie, unsettling effect. Half of the subject’s face is covered by an artificial mask with one unnatural, unseeing eye. The dark veil, overgrown vines, and shadows in the background further establish a spooky aura. Clarence John Laughlin used the dreamlike elements of Surrealism to explore the American South and the interior world. In the title of this work, Laughlin refers to the process of our protective psychological “masks” fusing with and replacing our original personalities. Laughlin lived and worked in New Orleans, Louisiana. A self-taught photographer, he is known for his haunting and surrealistic images of New Orleans and the Southern landscape. He originally aspired to be a writer but found photography when he was twenty-five and taught himself how to work with a view camera. His first photographic work was as a freelance architectural photographer. He went on to work for other outlets, such as Vogue magazine and the U.S. government, though he later left both in order to focus exclusively on personal projects.

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