Three Little Girls,
accession number 2003.0182.402,
The Historic New Orleans Collection
Between 1916 and the mid-1930s, John Tibule Mendes (1888-1965) was a consistent and curious observer of life in the Crescent City. New Orleans was the city of Mendes’s birth and, from all evidence unearthed to date, was a place he rarely left. The 609 gelatin dry plate negatives that form the Mendes archive were donated to The Historic New Orleans Collection by Waldemar S. Nelson in 2003. Waldemar and Opal Nelson were Mendes’s neighbors, and ultimately purchased his house, finding there a box containing his negatives. Because no surviving prints were present, The Collection had a complete set of uncropped prints made from digital files of Mendes’s plates. Mendes appears to have been purely an amateur photographer, who held a series of jobs ranging from department store stock clerk and packer to night watchman. Although a handful of the negatives are signed by Mendes (as one would do in order to identify authorship upon publication), there are no records yet discovered showing that these photographs (or any others he made) were ever published.
The photographer’s self-published memoir, Dogs in My Life (1964), un-illustrated, provides a great deal of background material on Mendes’s life, though its narrative emphasizes the series of canine pets that filled his life for over six decades. Photographs of dogs appear throughout the range of Mendes’s work but are no more prevalent than depictions of children’s pageants, city street life, and newsworthy local events and personalities. The Collection’s copy of Dogs in My Life (85-142-RL) is available for consultation at The Williams Research Center, 410 Chartres Street in New Orleans.
Mendes, a lifelong bachelor, lived with his mother in a simple house that they rented in the 400 block of North Broad Street in New Orleans. A number of photographs in the archive relate to this house, its interior, and the block. Regina, a sister, moved from New Orleans; according to Mendes, the only time he was separated from his mother’s company was during her visits to Regina. A few years after his mother’s death in 1942, the landlord’s plans for the residence forced Mendes to move. He purchased a small home in the Carrollton section of New Orleans and remained there until his death. Like the home on North Broad Street, this house never had electricity. The process of obtaining additional content data is ongoing, as it is with many archival collections, and the site will be updated as new information is discovered.