Doris Ulmann: From the Highlands to the Lowlands Photography Exhibition is Now Open at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art An Exhibition of Dignified Portraits of the Region’s People

NEW ORLEANS – Now open at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art and on view until September 16 is the photography exhibition, DorisUlmann: From the Highlands to the Lowlands, curated by Richard McCabe, Curator of Photography at the Ogden Museum.

A native New Yorker, Doris Ulmann (1882 – 1934) traveled through the American South, from Appalachia and the Sea Islands of South Carolina to the deep South and New Orleans. Along the way, she photographed the landscape, both natural and built, and made dignified portraits of the region’s people. Her work is closely associated with the pictorialist and the social realism movements of the early 20th century.

Photographing with a large cumbersome camera, she made lush and dreamy portraits of craftsmen, musicians and other tradespeople throughout the South.

This exhibition features images from “Roll, Jordan, Roll” (1933) and “Handicrafts of the Southern Highlands”(1937), two books illustrated with Ulmann’s photographs. Photographs were loaned by Joshua Mann Pailet, founder/president of A Gallery for Fine Photography, New Orleans; Jessica Lange, collector, photographer and actress; and Roger H. Ogden, longtime supporter of the Ogden Museum.

Supporters of the exhibition include Melissa and Wayne Lake; B. Benjamin Lowry and Shelly Gallender; and Roger H. Ogden and Kenneth Barnes.

A panel discussion about the exhibition will take place on September 15 from 2 – 3:30 p.m. Panelists will include Joshua Mann Pailet, Jessica Lange and Richard McCabe.

About Doris Ulmann

Doris Ulmann (1882 – 1934) studied photography at the Clarence H. White School of Modern Photography. In her hometown of New York City, she made a name for herself in the 1920s as a portrait photographer for the stars of theater, film, politics, medicine and science. Among her subjects were the Hollywood starlet, Lillian Gish, and scientist, Albert Einstein.

The same care and attention she applied to her portraits of the famous, she infused in her portraits of the common man – the working men, women and children of the American South. A humanist with a camera, Ulmann traveled by car in the late-1920s through the mid-30s across the American South, from Appalachia and the Sea Islands of South Carolina to the Deep South and New Orleans. Along the way, she photographed the landscape (both natural and built), and made dignified portraits of the region’s people.

On her sojourns into the American South, Ulmann was accompanied and assisted by folklorist and musician, John Jacob Niles. As Niles drove back roads collecting folk songs and interviews with musicians and craftspeople, Ulmann made photographs. Among the results of Ulmann’s treks down South were two books illustrated with her photographs: “Roll, Jordan, Roll” (1933), with text by Julia Peterkin and “Handicrafts of the Southern Highlands”(1937), with text by Allan Eaton.

“Roll, Jordan, Roll”featured photographs made in the Lowcountry region of South Carolina, focusing on the Gullah people who lived on the Sea Islands along the Atlantic coast. “Handicrafts of the Southern Highlands” included photographs of craftspeople from the Appalachian Mountain region of North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia.

By the 1920s, roll film and small hand-held cameras had transformed photography, making it accessible to the masses and leading to the rise of the family snapshot. Doris Ulmann, however, remained committed to photographing with a cumbersome large-format view-camera mounted on a tripod, and made exposures onto 6” x 8” glass plate negatives. Her prints were made through multiple photo printing processes, many of which were from the 19th century: photogravure, palladium, platinum and bromoil.

Although Ulmann’s photography was within the documentary tradition, her work is more closely aligned with the Pictorialist movement – an international style of photography that dominated the medium from the late 19th century to early 20th century. Pictorialism was characterized by soft-focused, dreamy imagery that paid homage to painting as opposed to the hard-edged realism inherent within the objective documentary-style photography practiced at the time by Walker Evans, Marion Post Wolcott and August Sander.

Within the documentary tradition, Ulmann’s photographs embody elements of the social realist movement and share characteristics of the Farm Security Administration (F.S.A.) photographers, who documented the human condition and rural poverty throughout the United States during the 1930s and 40s. Yet, Ulmann’s photographs are more personal and meditative than the work of the F.S.A. – reflecting not only her photographic practice, but also the deep respect and empathy she felt towards her subjects.

About the Ogden Museum 

Located in the vibrant Warehouse Arts District of downtown New Orleans, Louisiana, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art holds the largest and most comprehensive collection of Southern art and is recognized for its original exhibitions, public events and educational programs which examine the development of visual art alongside Southern traditions of music, literature and culinary heritage to provide a comprehensive story of the South. Established in 1999 and in Stephen Goldring Hall since 2003, the Museum welcomes almost 85,000 visitors annually, and attracts diverse audiences through its broad range of programming including exhibitions, lectures, film screenings and concerts which are all part of its mission to broaden the knowledge, understanding, interpretation and appreciation of the visual arts and culture of the American South.

The Ogden Museum is open daily from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. with extended hours on Thursdays from 6 – 8 p.m. for Ogden After Hours. Admission is free to Museum Members and $13.50 for adults, $11 for seniors 65 and older, $6.75 for children ages 5-17 and free for children under 5.

The Ogden Museum is free to Louisiana Residents on Thursdays from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. courtesy of The Helis Foundation. The Helis Foundation is a Louisiana private foundation, established by the William Helis Family. The Art Funds of the Helis Foundation advance access to the arts for the community through contributions that sustain operations for, provide free admission to, acquire works of art and underwrite major exhibitions and projects of institutions within the Greater New Orleans area.

The Museum is closed Lundi Gras and Mardi Gras, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Years Day.

The Museum is located at 925 Camp Street, New Orleans Louisiana 70130. For more information visit or call 504.539.9650.