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Famed photographer’s archive is donated to the Historic New Orleans Collection

5th July 2016   ·   0 Comments

The photographic treasures of Harold Baquet, whose work spans three decades and captured the flavor and culture of Black New Orleans and chronicled important events in the history of Black America, were recently donated to The Historic New Orleans Collection.

The colossal donation of the New Orleans native’s life’s work reportedly includes thousands of photographic images, contact sheets, slides, negatives and other items.

Baquet died at the age of 56 on June 18, 2015 after a lengthy battle with colon cancer.



The donation, which includes Baquet’s photos depicting Black life and culture in the Crescent City, represents a major acquisition for The Historic New Orleans Collection which announced the donation last week.

The 7th Ward native’s work has appeared in The Louisiana Weekly and many other local publications as well as national publications like Ebony, Jet, Essence, Time and Rolling Stone magazines. Included in the photojournalist’s collection are seminal images of Black Mardi Gras Indians, jazz musicians, second lines, Mardi Gras traditions, social aid and pleasure clubs, jazz funeral processions, various activities in the French Quarter, local elected officials and community leaders. His photos also captured the heart and soul of daily Black life in the Big Easy, especially in the 7th Ward and the Faubourg Tremé.

Baquet worked at City Hall as the official photographer for the city’s first two Black mayors — Ernest “Dutch” Morial and Sidney Barthelemy — and spent 25 years working as a photographer for Loyola University of New Orleans before retiring in 2014.

In a 2010 interview, he recalled falling in love with photography at the age of 11 and growing to understand and appreciate the power of photography to preserve history at a young age.

It was young Harold Francis Baquet who convinced his cousin Myrtle to allow him to take her picture even though she did not like to be photographed, he recalled.

“A year later, she passed away, and I had that picture,” Baquet said. “I had a treasure I could hold in my hand.”

The St. Augustine High School graduate worked as an electrician before pursuing a career in photography.

Baquet’s photographic treasures will now be preserved and shared with future generations of New Orleanians, scholars and visitors to the city, thanks to the donation by Baquet’s widow, Cheron Brylski.

Baquet’s images are the first collection of work by an African-American photographer donated to The Historic New Orleans Collection.

The many memorable images captured by Baquet include a photo of Dutch Morial feeding birthday cake to music legend Fats Domino, legendary jazz trumpeter Miles Davis presenting a trumpet to a young Wynton Marsalis, legendary boxer and humanitarian Muham-mad Ali, beloved Big Chief Allison “Tootie” Montana, chart-topping musician, producer, songwriter and arranger Allen Toussaint and former New Orleans Saints quarterback Archie Mannie and his family. It also includes images of well-known Black businesses and landmarks in New Orleans, many of which did not survive the devastating wind and subsequent floods of Hurricane Katrina.

“Much of Harold Baquet’s work covers time periods and subjects not overly represented in our collections, including African-American life in the last quarter of the 20th century,” said John. H. Lawrence, director of museum programs at THNOC. “It coincides chronologically with some other collections we have, but it’s a view of the city through different eyes.”

“Although The Historic New Orleans Collection 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 Lawrence, who also serves as a photography historian and curator.

The Harold F. Baquet Archive joins THNOC’s archive of Michael P. Smith, the Charles L. Franck Studio Collection, the Jules Cahn Collection, the Clarence John Laughlin Archive, some of the many photography collections housed at the institution.

Baquet’s collection is unique in size and scope, however. 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 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,” said his widow, Cheron Brylski.

Additional Baquet material chad previously been donated to and is retained by the New Orleans Public Library and Loyola University’s J. Edgar and Louise S. Monroe Library.

THNOC officials said its items from the donation will become available to the public as they are processed.

This article originally published in the July 4, 2016 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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