Growing up in New Orleans, the Musee Conti Wax Museum was a regular school field trip. Upon arrival the galleries echoed with excited chatter until approaching the more gruesome displays.
Then it got quiet. It was dark.
Death and murdering mannequins lingered.
In returning to the museum on its last day of operation this past January, I photographed the wax figures because they wouldn't get nervous or talk back to me. They weren't going to ask how to pose because they were already standing in place as if caught in mid-sentence. For the most part, rather than simply photographing the dioramas verbatim, I isolated the mannequins from their staged scenes to derive meanings other than what was originally intended. In the Corbett-Sullivan ringside fight and Baroness Contessa on her balcony, I photographed the complete dioramas because the intimate proximity to them makes you think: what is this?
R.I.P. Musee Conti 1964-2016
“See Napoleon in his bath!” was the museum’s tagline for years as a titillating hint at what to expect inside. Standing still for 52 years, realistic Pierre Inmans Paris-sculpted beeswax effigies doubled for dead celebrities, costumed fictional characters and lurid local history protagonists in elaborately staged tableaux. The curatorial non-sequiturs were presented on a succession of elaborately designed raised stages produced in 1964 by local businessmen Benjamin Weil and Isidore Lazarus who were inspired by Madame Tussards Wax Museum in London.
The French Revolution compelled Marie Tussaud to create masks from famous fresh corpses. She exhibited them in London with a collection created by, Dr. Philippe Curtius, a physician skilled in wax modeling who taught her the craft. In 1835 Madame Tussaud set up a permanent exhibition in London which included a 'Chamber of Horrors’ (now shuttered).
While the Musee Conti in New Orleans no longer exists, these photos play with perception, time and memory so the show can still go on.