Friday, September 29, 2023
Mallory Taylor, associate curator

For many years in the mid-20th century, New Orleans photographer John E. Kuhlman (1919–1978) documented the local traditional jazz scene on top of his regular for-hire work, shooting concerts and clubs in addition to families, weddings, and special events. Kuhlman was a talented photographer and longtime member of the Louisiana Professional Photographers Association, serving as president starting in 1960 and then as executive manager, a role he held until he passed away in 1978. Following his death, his photographic archive, consisting of thousands of negatives, was passed down through family members.

The Six and 7/8 band performing in 1950 (The John E. Kuhlman Collection at THNOC, 2023.0096.1.1529)

THNOC has acquired 2,300 of those negatives, which span 1948 to 1970 and, with few exceptions, relate to Kuhlman’s sideline career as a jazz photographer. Kuhlman photographed with a large-format camera, most likely a handheld press camera. Commonly used in the 1950s, these cameras could capture lively scenes without the need for a tripod or long exposures, and Kuhlman was especially skilled in using them. He applied superior knowledge of interior lighting, composition, and technique to his work, and the quality of his images stands apart from anything THNOC currently has in the format.

Kuhlman's knack for shooting interiors is on display in this photo of a show at Artesian Hall on N. Derbigny Street (The John E. Kuhlman Collection at THNOC, 2023.0096.1.317)

Among many performers featured in the collection are Paul Barbarin, Lizzie Miles, Alcide “Slow Drag” Pavageau, the vaudevillian duo Pork Chop and Kidney Stew, “Papa” Jack Laine, and a very young Pete Fountain. There are interior views of jazz venues such as Lenfant’s, in Lakeview; the Municipal Auditorium; and a number of French Quarter spots—the 500 Club, the Paddock Lounge, Sid DaVilla’s Mardi Gras Lounge, and El Morocco, to name a few. Also featured are events and performances put on by the New Orleans Jazz Club, an organization of fans and researchers founded in 1948.

 Assistant curator and banjo/guitar player Danny Barker stands with trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, blues singer Cousin Joe, and cornetist George Finola in this photograph commemorating the club’s 1961 opening of the New Orleans Jazz Museum (The John E. Kuhlman Collection at THNOC, 2023.0096.3.2.1)

The Kuhlman photographic collection is an important archive that will be of great interest to jazz researchers. THNOC plans to digitize the entire collection, which will eventually be made available on our online catalog.

Blanche Thomas performs in 1968 (The John E. Kuhlman Collection at THNOC, 2023.0096.3.1.1)

About The Historic New Orleans Collection

Founded in 1966, The Historic New Orleans Collection is a museum, research center, and publisher dedicated to the stewardship of the history and culture of New Orleans and the Gulf South. Follow THNOC on Facebook or Instagram