Ralston Crawford Collection of Jazz Photography

Description

Ralston Crawford was a painter, lithographer and photographer. He was born in Ontario, Canada, in 1906, but grew up in Buffalo, New York, where his father worked as a cargo ship captain. At 20, he left home to work on tramp steamers, traveling to Caribbean and South American ports, but abandoned the sailor’s life after a year to enroll in classes at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles. After two terms at Otis, he moved east and resumed his studies at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Barnes Foundation in Pennsylvania, followed by a yearlong stint in Paris at the Academies Colarossi and Scandinave. By 1934 he was back in the U.S. preparing for his first solo exhibition of paintings at the Maryland Institute of Art. Crawford gained much critical and popular acclaim for his early work, which is most often associated with Precisionism – an American art movement characterized by simplified, geometric forms and themes of industrialization.

Never one to stay in one place for long, Crawford continued to make frequent trips to Europe, and he held posts as visiting professor and artist-in-residence at schools around the country, including the Honolulu School of Art, University of Southern California, Art Academy of Cincinnati and Louisiana State University. Despite his itinerant leanings, one place he returned to again and again was New Orleans.
He first visited the city with camera in tow in 1938 and returned nearly every year for the rest of his life. A longtime jazz enthusiast, Crawford was drawn to the city’s parades and second lines, its bars and clubs, and of course, its musicians, many of whom he considered his closest friends. In 1949, during his tenure as visiting artist at Louisiana State University, he began methodically documenting the musical culture of the city through photography. Where he had previously used the camera as a tool to generate source material for his paintings, his New Orleans photos stand as works unto themselves and mark an important shift in his photography towards a more spontaneous, documentary approach.

According to curator Barbara Haskell of the Whitney Museum of American Art, Crawford had printed nearly 10,000 New Orleans photographs by the end of his life. The Hogan Jazz Archive’s Ralston Crawford Collection of Jazz Photography was acquired in 1961 and includes 741 of what Crawford deemed his best images New Orleans images. Richard B. Allen, former curator of the Archive, who often accompanied him on his photographic excursions, said Crawford “caught joy, grief, rituals, cheating, dancing, selling, boredom, drunkenness, religion, lust, sickness, hard work, friendship and so many other things.”1 In a piece he wrote for The Second Line magazine in 1953, Crawford provided a more understated description of the series: “I have gone and shall continue to go, to bars, night clubs, dances, churches and parades, because the sounds coming from these places are fine. Here is part of my reaction in pictures.”2

Ralston Crawford died in Houston in 1978 and was interred at St. Louis Cemetery No. 3 in New Orleans. According to his wishes, he had a traditional jazz funeral.

1 Anderson, J. Lee, “The Painter as Photographer,” Mississippi Rag, (August 1990): 1-5
2 Crawford, Ralston, “Ralston Crawford’s Photographs,” The Second Line 4 (July-August 1953): 1-12.

Pages

Billie Pierce
Billie Pierce of the Billie and DeDe Pierce trio takes a break during recording for Riverside in Jeunes Amis Hall, jazz@tulane.edu
Billie Pierce
Visiting the New Orleans Record Shop, jazz@tulane.edu
Birthplace of Louis Armstrong
Birthplace of Louis Armstong on Jane Alley, jazz@tulane.edu
Birthplace of Louis Armstrong
Birthplace of Louis Armstong on 723 Jane Alley, jazz@tulane.edu
Birthplace of Louis Armstrong
Birthplace of Louis Armstong on 723 Jane Alley, jazz@tulane.edu
Black Gold Bar
Two men in the back room of the Black Gold Bar with boxes of Falstaff Beer., jazz@tulane.edu
Black Gold Bar
Musicians’ hangout; [was Bill & Dot’s, early 1964] at 700 block Burgundy Street, jazz@tulane.edu
Black Gold Bar
A group of patrons inside the Black Gold Bar., jazz@tulane.edu
Black Walter Nelson's Band
Leroy Thompson, tp at Hi Hat, Orleans & Villere, jazz@tulane.edu
Blanche Thomas and Manuel Sayles on Bourbon Street
Blanche Thomas as the vocalist and Manuel Sayles on the guitar with a man watching from behind, somewhere on Bourbon Street., jazz@tulane.edu
Blanche Thomas singing on Bourbon Street
Blanche Thomas singing and a man on the guitar, somewhere on Bourbon Street., jazz@tulane.edu
Blind Freddie Small
Blind Freddie Small photographed alone outside of his home on 823 N. Robertson, jazz@tulane.edu
Blue Lamp Bar
View of the front of the Blue Lamp bar, owned by drummer Chester Jones., jazz@tulane.edu
Blue Lamp Bar
Front and side views of the Blue Lamp bar, owned by drummer Chester Jones., jazz@tulane.edu
Bogan's Villa & Patio
Doretha Jones, the secretary of the American Federation of Musicians Local 496, with an unidentified man and woman during a style show inside Bogan's Villa & Patio., jazz@tulane.edu
Bon Temps Carnival Ball at Labor Temple Hall
Patrons at the Bon Temps Carnival Ball in Labor Temple hall., jazz@tulane.edu
Boy Scouts lined up in a Sunday school parade
Boy scouts lined up in a Sunday school parade on Magnolia, between Jackson and Louisiana Street., jazz@tulane.edu
Brass band
Eddie 'Big Head' Johnson on the alto saxophone, Louis Nelson on the trombone, and Willie Pajaud on the trumpet at a parade in Shakespeare Park. Possibly the Eureka Brass Band., jazz@tulane.edu
Buck Banville's Band
Lefty Eirmann on the sousaphone and Charlie Favrot on drums at a dance at the American Legion (Gentilly Post) Dance Hall., jazz@tulane.edu
Buck Banville's Band
Roland Leach on the alto saxophone at a dance at the American Legion (Gentilly Post) Dance Hall., jazz@tulane.edu

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