Untitled (Storyville Portrait, Page 39) by E.J. Bellocq
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- Artwork Info
- About the Artist
- About this Photograph
Toned printing out print
Annotated, "79:023", in pencil, with faded Lee Friedlander credit stamp, in ink, au verso
Printed circa 1995
E.J. Bellocq (American, 1873-1949) is a mysterious figure in the history of photography. His photographs did not become well-recognized until nineteen years after his death, and little is known about his life or his creative intentions.
Active as a commercial photographer in the 1910s, he made at least eighty-nine portraits of prostitutes in a brothel in Storyville, the fabled red-light district of New Orleans. It is unclear whether these were commissioned as advertisements for the brothel’s potential clients or — probably more likely — intended for Bellocq’s own pleasure. His portraits are remarkable for the relaxed demeanor of the women, unusual for photographs produced with the glass plates and relatively long exposure times Bellocq used. The qualities of familiarity and casual intimacy in these portraits intrigued Lee Friedlander, who purchased Bellocq’s negatives from an antique-book dealer in New Orleans in 1966. After Friedlander’s prints from the negatives were exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in 1970, Bellocq’s pictures won wide public exposure and he came to be included in standard histories of photography. There are two publications of Bellocq’s photographs: E.J. Bellocq: Storyville Portraits (1970) and Bellocq: Photographs from Storyville, the Red Light District of New Orleans (1996), an enlarged reprint.
Bellocq is said to have made photographs on commission for the Foundation Company, a shipbuilding concern, and to have documented the opium dens of New Orleans’s Chinatown, but none of these images seems to have survived.
Source: International Center of Photography
This image is from a secret cache of pictures made inside a brothel, where Bellocq photographed his subjects in casual moments, thus creating what can be described as an archive of the forlorn.
The picture comes from one of the great discoveries in photographic history. Lee Friedlander recognized the uniqueness of these glass plate negatives, whose degraded physical characteristics added an interesting visual element to these images, and acquired them.
This gold-toned print, made by Friedlander using 19th-century techniques on Printing Out Paper, is evocative of how the print would have appeared had it been produced contemporaneously to the negative. The overall effect lends the photograph an aspect of artifact that complements its compelling imagery.