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Theodore Fonville Winans was a noted American photographer whose black and white images captured south Louisiana people and places.
Fonville was born on August 22, 1911, in Mexico, Missouri, died September 13, 1992, in Louisiana, and spent part of his childhood in Fort Worth, Texas, where, as a senior, in high school he purchased his first camera, a Kodak 3A model. Armed with this camera, Fonville shortly won $15 in a photography contest, which stirred his interest in pursuing photography as a career.
In 1928, Fonville moved to Louisiana to work in construction, and it was during this time that he fell in love with the state. Fonville began photographing the state's southern swamps and grassy coastal wetlands, as well as the people who inhabited them, most notably the Cajuns. "Louisiana was my Africa, my South America," he recalled.
Fonville's timing was fortuitous, for as Ben Forkner noted, "Thanks to an absence of roads and bridges, and to a largely inward-turned and jealous identity, the Cajun settlements and outposts that Fonville found were irregular islands of a predominantly French-speaking culture that continued to resist the tidal floods of 'progress' and the 20th century. . . . [W]hen Fonville appeared with his boat and camera the more remote strongholds of Cajun society could still give the impression of a private country at home in the midst of millennial swamp forests and endless river prairies, and only half-open to the modern world."
Anne Price has observed that Fonville's photographs from this period were a "human, cheerful record of a people who were self-sufficient enough to make their own way with dignity despite the times, . . . Fishermen, hunters, moss gatherers and other wetlands residents are seen at work and at play. His landscapes and seascapes are haunting and enduring, and his always accurate eye captures the essence of time and place."
Fonville himself recalled of these images, "I didn’t take any of these pictures deliberately. I just took them for fun. None was on assignment. I wasn’t even a freelancer. I just took my camera and got pictures when I saw something interesting."