One of the finest architectural photographers in America, Robert
W. Tebbs produced the first photographic survey of Louisiana's
plantations in 1926. From those images, now housed in the Louisiana
State Museum, and not widely available until now, 119 plates
showcasing fifty-two homes are featured here.
Richard Anthony Lewis explores Tebbs's life and career,
situating his work along the line of plantation imagery from
nineteenth-century woodcuts and paintings to later
twentieth-century photographs by John Clarence Laughlin, among
others. Providing the family lineage and construction history of
each home, Lewis discusses photographic techniques Tebbs used in
his alternating panoramic and detail views.
A precise documentarian, Tebbs also reveals a poetic sensibility
in the plantation photos. His frequent emphasis on aspects of
decay, neglect, incompleteness, and loss lends a wistful aura to
many of the images -- an effect compounded by the fact that many of
the homes no longer exist. This noticeable vacillation between
objectivity and sentiment, Lewis shows, suggests unfamiliarity and
even discomfort with the legacy of slavery.
Poised on the brink of social and political reforms, Louisiana
in the mid-1920s had made significant strides away from the
slave-based agricultural economy that the plantation house often
symbolized. Tebbs's Louisiana plantation photographs capture a
literal and cultural past, reflecting a burgeoning national
awareness of historic preservation and presenting plantations to us
Select plantations included: Ashland/Belle Helene, Avery Island,
Belle Chasse, Belmont, Butler-Greenwood, L'Hermitage, Oak Alley,
Parlange, Ren? Beauregard House, Rosedown, Seven Oaks,
Shadows-on-the-Teche, The Shades, and Waverly.
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