Florestine Perrault Collins was born in 1895 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Collins' parents were free people of color and her father had a well paying job. Unfortunately, because the family had 6 children, Collins, the eldest of the children, was pulled out of school in order to help with the family's income. It is said that she started very young when she learned how to photograph: around 14 years old. In order for her to learn more about photography, she had to lie about her race. She became a photo assistant to many white photographers in the area during this time.
After Collins' first marriage, she was able to open up her own studio in her home. At this point she had stopped saying she was white and publicized that she was an African-American female photographer. Collins later moved her business to the downtown center of New Orleans. She was well-known for her method of photographing and her great advertisements in the paper. She used an image of herself to show how great of a portrait photographer she was. With her photographs she made sure that every one, with the help of her clients, would "reflect pride, sophistication, and dignity," about the culture of African-Americans. She specialized in portraits including taking pictures of families, weddings, parities and self-portrait work.
Because of her business, Collins was able to survive the Great Depression and keep her family afloat. She was also one of 101 African-American women photographers in the 1920 U.S. Census and the only one in New Orleans. Through 30 years of work, she documented the story of the New Orleans Creole community and of the South. She became well known for her work because of the way she approached every subject with the goal of always positively representing that individual.
Collins passed away in 1988. She currently has a great-niece, Arthe Anthony, who has written a book all about her Great-Aunt. The book, Picturing Black New Orleans, is about the stories Collins was surrounded by and photographed. It delves into family records, oral histories and photographs that were rescued after Hurricane Katrina. If you are interested in learning more about Florestine Perrault Collins, you can purchase the book here!
Written by Gwen Cinelli
Images: Images taken by Florestine Perrault Collins. Copyright to the respected owners.
Thumbnail Picture: Florestine Marguerite Perrault as an early adolescent, early 1910s.