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From "Big Shots" to brides: The portraits of Fonville Winans being unveiled at the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Northwest History Museum

On Friday, May 20, Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser and the Louisiana State Museum will unveil a new exhibition at the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Northwest Louisiana History in Natchitoches, From “Big Shots” to Brides: The Portraits of Fonville Winans. The opening celebration will get underway with a reception, free to the public, from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. with food and libations.

“Louisiana is justly famous for its unique landscapes, its colorful politicians, and its hospitable people,” said Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser. “Fonville’s iconic and beautiful photographs document the past while reflecting the radiance and resiliency of Louisiana culture.”

Bringing together some of photographer Theodore Fonville Winans’ (1911–1992) most striking portraits, this exhibition includes a diverse array of individuals, many of whom have ties to north or central Louisiana.

Born in Missouri and raised in Texas, Fonville discovered an affinity for Louisiana as a teenager. While working with his father on a bridge construction project in Morgan City, Fonville “fell in love with moss in trees, palmettos, and alligators” and decided to call the state home. After photographing the bayous of south Louisiana in the 1930s, Fonville settled in Baton Rouge, where he opened a studio and quickly became a respected and popular portrait photographer.

From “Big Shots” to Brides: The Portraits of Fonville Winans explores Fonville’s unique ability to capture the personality of his subjects. Part of the exhibit focuses on his portraits of politicians, prominent citizens, and celebrities, ranging from baseball legend Connie Mack to celebrity chef Justin Wilson. Between 1938 and 1940, Fonville was employed as one of Louisiana’s official state photographers and called upon to photograph some of the state’s most powerful officials, a task he sometimes found difficult. “The hardest thing to photograph is a politician who’s a prima donna,” Fonville said. “I love politicians because they’re big shots and I like big shots, but they can be difficult.”

Fonville used a variety of methods to get his subjects to relax, including striking up a conversation, rescheduling a visit for a particularly nervous client, and, when necessary, providing alcoholic beverages. When asked about his technique, Fonville said, “I just try to make photographing a fun thing. I talk to people and find out about them, then I encourage them to be themselves.”

Fonville’s ability to put his subjects at ease made him popular with another group of subjects: Baton Rouge brides. The demand for his talents as a wedding photographer was such that, as one bride put it, “You called Fonville first... then you called the church and the minister. If Fonville was booked, you changed the date.” Typically, Fonville followed the bride throughout her wedding day, from getting dressed to walking down the aisle, then departing with the groom for the honeymoon. Spanning the decades from the 1940s to the 1980s, Fonville’s wedding photographs reflect evolving fashion trends in wedding dresses, hairstyles, and make-up.

The exhibit showcases part of the Louisiana State Museum’s extensive collection of Fonville Winans images. In 1994, Robert L. Winans, the photographer’s son, and Natalia Winans, his daughter-in-law, donated the largest collection of Fonville’ photographs, along with camera equipment and memorabilia. In addition to the portraits, the exhibition includes photography equipment from Fonville’s studio.

From “Big Shots” to Brides: The Portraits of Fonville Winans will be on display at the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Northwest Louisiana History Museum in downtown Natchitoches. The museum is located at 800 Front Street in Natchitoches and open between 10 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Admission to the museum is $6 for adults, $5 for students, senior citizens, and active military, and free for children age six and under. Visit LouisianaStateMuseum.org for more information.