There once was a man more eager than any other to submit to the mortifying ordeal of being known, and knowing in turn. In life he collected thousands of artifacts to help him, and in death he bestowed them on the University so others might take that same journey.
The exhibition, titled Seeing and “The Eye of the Imagination”: Fantasy, Surrealism and Horror in the Clarence John Laughlin Book Collection, will be presented on the first and second floors of Hill Memorial Library until Sept. 21. Laughlin was a photographer from Lake Charles, Louisiana, and is largely considered to be the first true surrealist photographer in the U.S. He thought of himself as more collector than artist.
The exhibition features art and novels pertaining to science fiction, fantasy and the occult and writings from surrealist author and collector Laughlin himself. Exhibitions Coordinator Leah Wood Jewett and co-curators Kristina Sutherland and Michelle Melancon put together the exhibition to highlight the collection.
“You will see that the collection is very, very broad,” Jewett said. “The common thread is visual, imagination, and his purpose was to build a collection that would be an inspiration to artists and other people. By maintaining that collection, and then by exhibiting examples from it, that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to help fulfill his original purpose.”
Sutherland and Melancon said in addition to providing inspiration for artists, the collection tracks the evolution and lineage of horror, science fiction and fantasy due to Laughlin’s attention to detail during the process of building up the collection.
“When you’re reading some of our descriptions you’ll see that some things are cross referenced and we’re pointing you other places, but then those places are pointing you back,” Sutherland said. “It’s like a never-ending circle.”
The collection was originally exhibited in 1998 and has been available in the LSU reading room since the ‘80s, and is being emphasized now due to developments in current events and the arts.
“This stuff may be older, but it’s still relevant now, and it’s becoming more and more relevant as we advance technology, as we consider what it is to be human all over again with things like elections or other things,” Sutherland said. “It’s just one of those things that you can revisit every now and then and find something new, especially because it’s such a large library.”
The collection features various editions and fine art books of traditional fairy tales in addition to the more modern genres featured. Sutherland said some pieces in the exhibition can’t be fully appreciated within their cases because it’s not possible to display all of the pages of a book at once.
Sutherland and Melancon emphasized the potential influence of the collection as tools of research and personal enrichment.
“I’ve been digging in this collection for probably two years now, and I can say that more than half the books that I’ve bought in that time have been from this collection, because I’ll find something and then it’ll be like 'I have to have this,' because just looking at it at work is not enough,” Melancon said.
Melancon said Laughlin was interested in trying to explain his ideas to people, and wanted to be understood. His personal notebooks and collection can potentially provide insight into the mind of Laughlin.
Jonathan Williams said it best in his intro to “Clarence John Laughlin: The Personal Eye": “CJL’s worry is that nobody in life sees what he’s up to. He, being All Eyes, is surrounded by sightless, pathetic materialists and abstractionists who do not understand.”