Arthur Paul Bedou was born July 6, 1882, in New Orleans, Louisianna. He was one of five children born to Armand Bedou and Mari Celeste Coustaut. Bedou grew up in severely impoverished conditions and received very little education. During his adolescent years, he developed an interest in photography.
Due to his lack of financial wealth, Bedou was mostly self-taught in terms of photography. In 1899, he took a picture of a solar eclipse and by 1900, his photograph was receiving notoriety. Thus, the beginning of his career as a photographer.
In the hopes of gaining more exposure for his photographic work, Bedou documented the conference at Tuskegee Institute where Booker T. Washington gave an address in 1903. Washington saw the photographs that Bedou took and hired Bedou to be his personal photographer.
Bedou was able to capture images that encapsulated the story of an unfolding event, which is what secured him the position with Washington. He accompanied Washington on his summer tours with the intention of creating a photo album for each trip. He photographed Washington from 1908 until Washington died in 1915.
Because his income was unstable while working with Washington, Bedou often made his photos into postcards, Christmas cards, and calendars. It provided him a somewhat stable income until he was later commissioned to photograph prominent figures, like George Washington Carver and Andrew Carnegie.
While the Tuskegee Institute was under Booker T. Washington’s command, Bedou was hired as the Institute’s official photographer. Once Washington died, Bedou was replaced. However, many other Black colleges and organizations sought his work. He was commissioned by Fisk University, the National Negro Business League, and the National Medical Association.
Bedou decided to open his own photography studio in the 1920s. There he photographed Black families, jazz musicians, celebrity speakers, etc. During this time, his photographs could often be found in the Louisiana Weekly and the Louisiana Times-Picayune. He also won several awards for his photographs over the span of his career.
Bedou invested in real estate and acted as the president of the People’s Industrial Life Insurance Company of Louisiana. Arthur P. Bedou died July 2, 1966, at the age of 83. His fortune was split between his wife, Lillia, and several educational institutions. Lillia Bedou later established a scholarship in his honor at Xavier College that is now known as the Arthur and Lillia Bedou Scholarship.
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