The Cammie G. Henry Research Center at Northwestern State University will host an exhibition of photographs on loan from NSU alum Ed Chopin of Shreveport. The collection is a glimpse of Shreveport from 1918 that shows the commercial and industrial side of the city more than a century ago. The exhibit will open with a reception from 5-7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 23 and run through March. Attendance is free and open to the public.
“The series shows the ‘working side’ of 1918 Shreveport industry with interiors of businesses ranging from accounting offices to boiler rooms,” said NSU Assistant Archivist Sharon Wolff. “The candid nature of the pictures makes them a unique and valuable window into everyday working life, both blue and white collar, in the early 20th century.”
Chopin, a retired educator and history buff, was helping friends pack to move out of state when he discovered a burlap-covered scrapbook from their attic that was about to be thrown away. The scrapbook turned out to be a collection of photographs prepared by the Shreveport Chamber of Commerce as a mechanism to promote the city by showing the working environment, along with information on the city’s population and infrastructure in hand calligraphy.
“I do not know who the photographer was, but he was extremely talented,” Chopin said. “The depth of field is phenomenal. Some pictures were taken in offices and you can look through the windows and get an idea of which building the photo was taken from.” Many details reveal themselves after a first glance at a picture, he said.
“You might see workers in an industrial environment, but you can also see tools, the lack of safety equipment, children and women working and black and whites working side by side.”
Chopin has always had an interest in history, photography and journalism. His mother, Ann Chopin, worked for the Natchitoches Enterprise, the rival paper of the Natchitoches Times, and he worked there after school. One memorable event they covered was the Tennessee Gas Pipeline explosion in Natchitoches in 1965 that killed 17 people. The Chopins photographed the fireball that soared approximately 400 feet before the flow of gas was cut. The Natchitoches Times later bought the Enterprise and his mother wrote feature stories for other publications.
Chopin earned a degree in industrial education with a minor in journalism at Northwestern State in 1971 and a master’s in industrial technology in 1978. He retired after teaching 46 years in public schools and at Bossier Parish Community College.
The photo collection has previously been exhibited at Centenary College and provides a glimpse at a time in history that would quickly change with industrialism.
“The unique thing about the photos is that 99 percent are interior of people working. Every photo is labeled by the photographer. For instance, the labels in a wood manufacturing company indicate it was the millworks or the accounting office. A picture of the Southern Pacific Railroad shows the ticket office. You can see dates on the calendars and read the clock as to what time of day and what month it was,” Chopin said.