“A Sojourn in Paradise: Jack Robinson in 1950s New Orleans” by Howard Philips Smith— New Orleans Life and the Early Career of Fashion Photographer Jack Robinson

Smith, Howard Philips. “A Sojourn in Paradise: Jack Robinson in 1950s New Orleans”, University of Mississippi Press, 2020.

New Orleans Life and the Early Career of Fashion Photographer Jack Robinson

Amos Lassen

Jack Robinson was a sought-after fashion and celebrity photographer during the 1960s and early 1970s. His work was everywhere it seemed— from Vogue to the New York Times and Life Magazine. His personal life, however, was an enigma. Howard Philips Smith means to change that with “A Sojourner in Paradise” in which he studies Robinson and his work concentrating on his early life in New Orleans. It was in the Crescent City that Robinson found his passion for painting, photography, and the Bohemian life of the French Quarter. The book features more than one hundred photographs taken by the artist with a detailed commentary about Robinson’s life in New Orleans as well as excerpts from interviews with the people who knew him there.  What we see here are the beginnings of the first gay Carnival krewes who made their own unique contributions to the rich cultural history of the city and read about the formation and beginnings of the Orleans Gallery, one of the earliest centers of the contemporary art movement that came into being America of the 1950s..

Jack Robinson dealt with inner struggles that brought him to New Orleans. The city became a haven for him and he was able to find himself, for a time, free from societal pressure. He was allowed to explore life on his own terms. New Orleans has that ability for people and I say that as a person who was born and raised there. Unlike many other American cities, New Orleans rests upon the joy of life grip and the diversity of the city allows for self-exploration.

For as long as I can remember, New Orleans has been a gay destination for many just for that reason. It takes a writer like Howard Philips Smith whose own love affair with gay Mardi Gras to  tell us Robinson’s story and provide us with previously unseen photographs of prominent New Orleanians and of Carnival in that period. We see a portrait of a city and an era that is gone forever but whose influence extends to the present day. I do not remember much about New Orleans of the 1950s but the memories I have were reinforced by what we have here. By the time I was finally able to live in the French Quarter, many of the personalities that we read about here were already gone but their stories lived on and in some cases still do today.

Robison was a member of a group that included artists, writers, designers, musicians, preservationists, illustrators, restaurateurs, travel agents, and antiquarians. New Orleanians will recognize the names of George Dunbar and Robert Helmer, Dusti Bongé, Jean Seidenberg, Katherine Choy, Lee Bailey, Leonard Parrish, Tilden Landry, Clay Shaw, Yvonne Fasnacht, Ella Brennan, Jack Beech, Bruce Butterworth, Claire Evangelista, Elmo Delacroix Avet and of course Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams and New York art dealer Betty Parsons. “A Sojourn in Paradise” is a visual feast that is filled with wonderful tidbits of the period.