Fonville Winans’ Cruise of the Pintail: A Photographic Journey
Though born in Missouri and raised in Texas, photographer Theodore Fonville Winans (1911–1992) discovered an affinity for Louisiana as a teenager. While working with his father on a bridge construction project in Morgan City, Fonville says he, “fell in love with moss in trees, palmettos, and alligators; the whole place was adventurous to me.”
In 1931, in the depths of the Great Depression, the young photographer set out on an adventure. Anxious to explore his exotic surroundings, Fonville purchased a small, leaky used boat for twenty-five dollars and renamed it the Pintail. After scraping, painting, and outfitting the boat with a Star automobile engine, he motored into the secluded swamps and bayous of south Louisiana—always with a camera at his side.
The Pintail gave him access to isolated areas that could only be reached by boat. Despite having to constantly bail water and swat away the ubiquitous mosquitoes, Fonville enjoyed his travels and the visual discoveries. Unlike many New Deal photographers of the Depression era, whose work often emphasized the socioeconomic disparities of the period, Fonville captured the dignity of a rapidly disappearing way of life in Louisiana’s bayous and the strength of the people who lived there.
In subsequent years, the photographer returned to south Louisiana again and again, focusing his lens on subjects including an Acadian fishing community in Grand Isle, a rice festival in Crowley, field trials in East Feliciana Parish, the interior of an Avery Island salt mine, and Huey P. Long, who also enjoyed visiting remote areas of the state.
Through his travel photography, Fonville created a lasting legacy of images documenting life in rural communities during the 1930s and 1940s. Cruise of the Pintail: A Photographic Journey celebrates this legacy—on view at the Cabildo in New Orleans, November 4, 2021 – September 30, 2022.
Image: Grand Isle Bus, Fonville Winans (1911-1992), 1934. Louisiana State Museum 1994.003.31.028.