Louis Sahuc came of age as a photographer in New Orleans in the 1970s as a member of a dynamic though informal group of photographers and designers who sought to find their calling in a field that was exploding with both artistic and commercial possibilities.
Louis Sahuc came of age as a photographer in New Orleans at the beginning of the 1970s as a member of a dynamic though informal group of photographers and designers who sought to find their calling in a field that was exploding with both artistic and commercial possibilities. Through his photographs and public actions in preservation circles, Sahuc became an advocate of an authentic New Orleans, and not an ersatz experience that he feels is too often presented to tourists. The start of his photographic career also marked his residency in the French Quarter, a neighborhood that figures prominently in many of his photographs. Sahuc was fascinated with photographs as a child, citing as an influence what he called “the best of fashion photography” as published in Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and other magazines he looked at while his mother and aunt shopped for clothes in New Orleans’s department stores. His appreciation for New Orleans was further formed from looking wide-eyed at the city as his father drove him around during the 1940s and 1950s.
Sahuc was born in New Orleans on October 20, 1942. In his college years, first at the University of New Orleans and then at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Sahuc studied zoology. His enlistment in the US Naval Reserve from 1961 to 1969 gave him no exposure to the medium either. He came to his photographic career in a moment of epiphany. Until 1970, he had been a representative for a business machine manufacturer, but said that while attending a New Orleans music festival and seeing the photographers at work there, the idea for a career as a photographer crystallized. He also acknowledges the power of the student killings on May 4, 1970, at Ohio’s Kent State University, infamously captured on camera and shared with a shocked world, as a shaping event in his decision to become a photographer. For the first twenty-five years of his career as a photographer, Sahuc concentrated on commercial freelance assignments in New Orleans and the surrounding area. In 1995 he opened a gallery, Photo Works New Orleans, where he sells his prints today.
The late 1960s and early 1970s were a time of intense interest in photography in New Orleans among younger practitioners. Sahuc said that a formative experience for him was a regular gathering of friends who were photographers, graphic designers, or people interested in those fields. Weekly meetings at an office on Gravier Street brought Sahuc together with like-minded participants including James Pertuit (for whom Sahuc worked briefly in Pertuit’s advertising agency), Debbie Fleming Caffery, Luis Castrillo, Sandra Russell Clark, Bob Coleman, Christopher Harris, and Jack Pickett (who taught Sahuc darkroom processes and techniques). Sahuc left the informal group and teamed up with photographer Larry Songy and businessman Eugene Countiss with the prospect of establishing a tourism-related ad agency. Though the project was never fully implemented, the office/studio/darkroom that the trio established on Exchange Alley was taken over by the Photo Exchange, one of the first galleries in New Orleans dedicated exclusively to photography, though Sahuc was not involved in its operations.
Extended absences from the Vieux Carré — to France in 1978 and 1979, and China in 1984 —always ended with his returning to what had become his base. Sahuc’s trip to France produced, in his opinion, few memorable photographs, perhaps because its purpose was not photographic but philosophical. At the time, Sahuc was a member of the group ASMP (then known as the American Society of Magazine Photographers, now called the American Society of Media Photographers), and he lobbied vocally for the photographic community in New Orleans to band together and form a common set of professional practices, especially regarding the issues of reproduction rights and usage. Some clients of these photographers looked upon this as a movement to unionize, and effectively blacklisted Sahuc. Removing himself from this situation seemed prudent. The sojourn gave him the experience of living away from the place he knew best, and permitted him upon his return to New Orleans to assess the city with fresh eyes, and make a new start.
The trip to China was as part of a local news team whom the Chinese government had commissioned to document that country in connection with its presence at the Louisiana World Exposition of 1984 in New Orleans. Sahuc was the still photographer for the group. Two years earlier, in 1982, Sahuc had been the principal photographer for the State of Louisiana’s “A Dream State” advertising campaign, an assignment that brought him to all corners of Louisiana.
When Sahuc first opened his gallery, he exhibited not only his own photographs, but those of others. In time, he decided to display only his photographs. Following Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, the French government, under the leadership of the Cultural Ministry, organized an exhibition of New Orleans photography, Régards sur la Nouvelle-Orléans, which included Sahuc’s work and was shown in Paris and other French cities beginning in 2007. In addition to numerous publications ranging from Real Estate Trends and the Journal of the Student National Medical Association, to commercial clients as varied as HBO and Wembley Ties, two books showcase his work: Galatoire’s Cookbook (2005) and Orleans Embrace (2007), which won two gold medals at the Publishers Marketing Association in the year of its release.