Nostalgia: Charles L. Franck

A lifetime photographing New Orleans 1877-1965

Image provided courtesy of The Charles L. Franck Studio Collection at The Historic New Orleans Collection, Acc no. 1979.325.7

The Charles L. Franck, Commercial Photographer studio window, decorated for Christmas.

The rights to all the Franck company’s prints and negatives are held by HNOC. The Charles L. Franck Studio Collection, accessible online, is an impressive documentation of the social changes and the industrial and urban growth that changed the face of New Orleans during the first half of the 20th century.

 

Charles L Franck was born in New Orleans in 1877 and developed a passion for photography in his youth. He took a job with American Express as a messenger in the Mississippi Valley, using his travels as an excuse to practice his photography. During time at home in New Orleans he would photograph life around him, timing his vacation time to coincide with Mardi Gras, which he documented for decades.

In 1905, he opened his own commercial photography studio at 409 Baronne St. From panoramic cityscapes to artistic closeups of insect life, Franck’s work was dictated by the diverse needs of his clients. Real estate offices and developers needed photos for property sales and also to track construction progress and protect business enterprises in case of future court litigation. Many businesses needed photographs of their goods for advertisements and catalogs, and college professors needed slides for use in the classroom.

Franck’s company documented port activity and agricultural work across the state, and also were on call for jobs that required them to be “dressed for trouble,” as Franck called it: photographing accident victims, prisoners and criminal evidence that would later be used for court cases.

During World War I he was a contributor to a project for the War Department, which would form a pictorial history of war activities in New Orleans: shipbuilding, Red Cross, patriotic meetings, etc.

Into the 1930s and 1940s, Frank began doing a lot of work for newspapers, including society coverage and wedding portraiture. Beyond photography, Franck was a generous donor to local causes and was recognized for his gardening skills.

When Franck retired in 1946, His daughter Cecil took over the business. He died in 1965 after a short illness.