Local photographer documented pageant

Published 11:52 pm Tuesday, March 3, 2009

NATCHEZ — For a few decades leading up to the 1980s, nearly every Historic Natchez Pageant tableau had an extra participant.

She wasn’t an official representative of either the Natchez Garden Club or the Pilgrimage Garden Club, but Mabel Lane knew her place in the historic play — the floor.

Dressed in high heels and a split skirt designed for easy movement, Lane stood, squatted and sat on the floor at the Natchez City Auditorium.

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Camera in hand, she was hunting the best angle.

Now, 20 years after Lane’s death, her photos are sitting at the Historic Natchez Foundation, waiting to be organized.

Lane catalogued Little Maypole, Big Maypole, the Wedding of Jefferson Davis and even tableaus that no longer exist. She sold her photos to the participants and their families.

She was considered the city’s most successful commercial photographer from the 1940s until her death in the late 1980s, according to Historic Natchez Foundation reports.

“She was an enormously creative, as well as hardworking, photographer,” said Mike Willey, a volunteer who organized much of the Lane collection.

More than 610,000 negatives were donated to the foundation after her death, Willey said. Her work includes not only pageant, but countless wedding, engagement, political, business and school photos of black and white Natchez residents.

And, though she is best remembered for her spot on the floor at pageant, her work is so much more than that, Willey said.

“People have to recognize the creativity she put into the meticulous craftsmanship of her work,” he said.

Though Willey organized much of the Lane collection, there is more to sort through.

At some point in the future, the foundation wants to have “Mabel Lane week,” Director of Programs Mimi Miller said. The week would be devoted to having volunteers dig through and sort the photos.

Some prints are currently available for purchase, and others will be ready for sale in the future.

This year’s Historic Natchez Pageant opens Friday night with a performance free to local residents. The pageant begins at 8 p.m.