Aerial photo collection by Winans found
A recently discovered collection of photographs by Fonville Winans provides a bird’s-eye view of Baton Rouge.
Winans is most notably known for his images of southern Louisiana’s Cajuns and wetlands, but an LSU archivist has found that in 1947 Winans also took a series of aerial pictures that included neighborhoods, businesses and the LSU campus.
About six months ago, Mark Martin, a processing archivist, found a box holding the Winans’ aerial photographs as Martin waded through a large collection of Winans’ work.
Martin said he was “more than excited” to find the collection. “Knowing there are many different organizations and individuals who are working on the problems of urban design and development, I very deeply felt the importance of having these images available for research.”
Dealing with photographic collections usually falls to Martin.
“I look at it and see if there is any existing order to it,” he said.
The Winans’ aerials had an order and were numbered, but Winans’ shot log didn’t contain exact locations or addresses. Winans simply wrote things like “Gus’s” or “New Hospital.”
The photos also weren’t ready for public viewing because they were stored on rolls and could only be viewed with special equipment and lighting, Martin said.
Getting the photos ready, Martin said, was unlike his other projects because it involved researching more than 400 images.
He used multiple resources to decipher the exact location of each photograph. The point of the project is to arrange and describe the photographs so they can be understood and made available to the public, he said.
Those resources included a 1947 Baton Rouge street map, Google Maps and city directories to look up addresses and street names.
However, the modern layout and street naming system has dramatically changed since 1947 in most instances, Martin said. Florida Boulevard ended at Airline Highway in 1947. As the boulevard has expanded, so have the modern addresses.
It has been his job to create a finding aid and database in order to provide access to the photographs for future use and reference.
“The descriptions and indexing that Mark created for each image are in the digital library, allowing anyone who is interested to search for specific streets or neighborhoods or just browse the images in the order that Winans shot them as he flew over Baton Rouge,” said Tara Laver, interim head of Special Collections.
“As Baton Rouge examines issues of urban sprawl and planning now, this collection provides an interesting and potentially useful reference point,” Laver said. “When you can see how things have changed, what used to be somewhere you pass every day, or aspects of the land and landscape in 1947 that aren’t there anymore, it helps develop a sense of place and process.”
Samuel Sanders, chairman of the Mid City Redevelopment Alliance, said the alliance will be able “to compare before and after shots.” Sanders said they will be able to find examples of the “glory days” and how the city can aim to restore the area.
There is a lot of urban development and planning happening in the Baton Rouge Mid City area, Martin said.
“People are trying to find out what was on the site they are dealing with,” Martin said.
“It’s not so much the thing itself as the evidentiary value of the thing that strikes me,” Martin said. “A piece of film is only of so much value, but the image contained on the film may be of great value from a number of different points of view.”
People can find what their neighborhood used to look like, Martin said. The pictures are a mixture of businesses, housing and smaller shops. An example of what Martin discovered is that in 1947 a grocery store, barber shop, shoe repair store, pharmacy, two gas stations and a restaurant all stood between Chimes and State streets at the north gates of LSU.
“Look at what has been done now,” he said.
The library has an extensive collection of Winans’ photographs in addition to the aerial shots. When Winans died in 1992 his children cleaned out the studio and donated most of his photographs to the university.
Winans himself had a studio at 667 Laurel St., which is now on the National Historic Register.
Winans bought his first camera, a Kodak 3A, in Louisiana in 1930. He returned to Texas and entered a contest with a photograph of an intersection in downtown Fort Worth. He won first place and decided to focus his attention on photography.
Winans found his way back to Louisiana where he made two motion pictures. He ended up on Grand Isle creating and selling postcards to tourists. Eventually, he moved to Baton Rouge and got a job at LSU. He worked as a photographer for two years and also started the “Campus Newsreel.” The monthly short film series was shown to the student body.
After his tenure at LSU, Winans photographed politicians, weddings and did portraits, gaining a reputation as a society photographer, Martin said.
Bob Winans, the son of Fonville Winans, has written and published books on his father’s work.
He said his father’s prints are being collected around the world.
Fonville wanted to know all about people. He was studying journalism at LSU when he dropped out to marry Helen Winans, Bob Winans said.
“My father was a happy-go-lucky type of fellow who enjoyed life,” Bob Winans said.