Storyville Portrait

bellocq_ernest_j_33_2004

E. J. Bellocq, Storyville Portrait, New Orleans, 1912 (33.2004)

E. J. Bellocq was a wealthy French-Creole man living in New Orleans at the turn of the twentieth century. He was known professionally as a photographer of landmarks, ships, and commercial machinery, but upon his death in 1949, a seedier side of the hunchbacked, dwarf-like photographer was discovered. Among Bellocq’s effects were eighty-nine haunting glass-plate negatives taken around 1912 of prostitutes in New Orleans’ legalized red-light district, Storyville. While most of his work was destroyed in 1949, the Storyville Portraits were found later by Bellocq’s brother, a Jesuit priest, and eventually sold in 1966 to a young photographer named Lee Friedlander. Friedlander began making printing-out paper prints, or sun-exposed contact prints, of the glass plate negatives, and in 1970 they were exhibited by John Szarkowski at the Museum of Modern Art. On many of the plates the faces of the prostitutes have been crossed out, believed to have been done by Bellocq himself while the emulsion was still wet, and two others, including this one, showed the prostitutes wearing masks. However, Bellocq’s images from the brothels of Storyville were not taken as objects offered up to the male gaze, but instead the women are willing subjects of Bellocq’s 8×10 view camera.

Kory Trolio, ICP-Bard 2014

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