Faces from the Past



Elemore Morgan, Sr., was self-taught photographer of Louisiana's forests

By James Barnett
Journal Correspondent

Forestry is not a field where you frequently find professional photographers. Yet, Louisiana had photographers who made great contributions to helping develop the public understanding of forestry and the nature that it represents. One of these, Elemore Morgan, Sr., worked for a time with the Louisiana Forest Commission and the Louisiana Forestry Association. He also supported efforts by the Forest Service's Southern Forest Experiment Station.

Morgan contributed to the communication of the condition of the State's forest resources and the need to restore its forests to a productive state. He was not, however, limited to exercising his talents in forestry applications. His talents went well beyond this narrow scope of interest and included capturing on film many of the unique features of the Louisiana landscape.

Elemore Morgan's interest in photography developed late in life. A native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Morgan grew up in the Depression and worked as a farmer, managed a B.F. Goodrich store, and became an oil distributor. While working for the Goodrich store, he bought a cheap camera to try to sell the Goodrich Company on promoting good roads.

When working as an oil distributor, he developed tuberculosis which destroyed his vocal cords. During the time that he could not speak, Morgan wrote notes to people. During his recovery period, he spent six month in Kerrville, Texas, learning to talk again. His voice became a soft one, whisherish in pitch which gave what he said a confidential tone.

Morgan became adept at photography while working for a noted Baton Rouge architect, using photographs to show clients the type of construction feasible. It was inevitable that Morgan would be drawn into forestry. It was an outdoorsman's field where men who knew the soil knew that Louisiana must grow from the roots up for lasting prosperity. Morgan became known for his images of Louisiana landscapes, churches, folk culture and people.

Morgan developed a relationship with leaders in forestry organizations throughout Louisiana. He worked for Forests & People, a magazine of the Louisiana Forestry Association, and his photos did much to establish it as a premier publication. A number of the photos shot for this publication earned major awards. However, he had a broader interest in the environment and culture of his native state.

His early work was included in a 1943 book, Bayous of Louisiana by Harnett Kane. In 1950, he collaborated with Frances Parkinson Keyes on a book project titled "All This is Louisiana." Morgan had no formal training as a photographer, but his dramatic photos became known for their style and power.

He frequently took his son, Elemore, Jr., on his photography travels and instilled in him the love for rural Louisiana. Elemore, Jr. became noted for his colorful paintings of the architecture and panoramic vistas of the prairies of Southwestern Louisiana. As a professor at University of Louisiana/Lafayette, Morgan, Jr. influenced and mentored hundreds of artists.

"Rural Landmarks and Life in Louisiana, 1937-1965" was a show of Morgan Sr.'s work organized by the Alexandria Museum of Art. The exhibition was also shown at Mississippi State University's McComas Hall Art Gallery. This exhibit describes Morgan Sr. as the "dean of Louisiana landscape" and as "first to recognize that the basis of the South was its agrarian culture, and that even then it was beginning to disappear."

Ed Kerr said of Morgan, Sr., "there were no discouraging words in Elemore's vocabulary. He was a 'can do' photographer who could bring snap to what seemed the most ordinary of scenes to untrained eyes. We looked, but he saw. And his excitement was so contagious; he eventually made us all see as well."

(Ed. Kerr's article on Elemore Morgan, Sr. in the third quarter 1966 issue of Forests & People was used as a resource for this article).

Elemore Morgan Sr., autographs book of pictures.