The archive of photographer Harold Baquet, which includes thousands of slides, negatives, contact sheets and prints, will be permanently housed at The Historic New Orleans Collection, the organization has announced. It is the institution’s first photographic collection by a black photographer.
Cheron Brylski, Baquet’s widow, has had the archive since his death one year ago.
An advocate for the black community, Baquet captured local African-American life from the streets of the 7th Ward to the corridors of City Hall.
The seventh-generation New Orleanian graduated from St. Augustine High School and worked as an electrician before pursuing his childhood dream of photography. After working for numerous news outlets, he served as the official city photographer for Mayors Ernest N. Morial and Sidney Barthelemy in the 1970s and ’80s.
Favorite photos include Morial feeding birthday cake to Fats Domino and Miles Davis handing a trumpet to a young Wynton Marsalis. There also are portraits of Muhammad Ali, the Manning family, Allen Toussaint and Big Chief Allison “Tootie” Montana, as well as scenes from street celebrations and barbershops, important centers of New Orleans’ African-American neighborhood life.
In 1989, he accepted a job at Loyola University as campus photographer and spent more than 25 years there, earning numerous honors.
“Although THNOC holds examples of works by historically important African-American photographers, including Arthur P. Bedou, Villard Paddio and Florestine Perrault Collins, nothing compares in scale and scope to Baquet’s archive,” said John H. Lawrence, director of museum programs at The Historic New Orleans Collection.
“There is still much to learn about the individual photographers and studios who chronicled African-American life in New Orleans since Jules Lion, a French-born free man of color, introduced the medium to New Orleans in 1840.”
Given its scope and subject matter, however, Baquet’s archive is unique. His is one of the few comprehensive and surviving collections by an African-American depicting daily life in New Orleans’ housing developments, including the Desire-Florida, Lafitte, Magnolia and St. Thomas projects, as well as the Versailles Arms Apartments in New Orleans East, where Vietnamese refugees were resettled in the 1980s.
“Harold considered The Historic New Orleans Collection as the rightful home for his photographs and artwork because he wanted to expand the historic collection’s full picture of New Orleans life, especially the valuable contributions of black families, civic leaders and working men and women to our community,” Brylski said.
Additional Baquet material already can be fouind in the New Orleans Public Library’s municipal division and Loyola University’s campus library.
The materials associated with the Historic New Orleans Collection donation are vast. For this reason, items will become available to the public as they are processed. To check their availability, contact the organization’s reading room staff at (504) 523-4662 or email@example.com.