Now, let's talk about EJ Bellocq and his photographs of New Orlean's Storyville!
John Ernest Joseph (EJ) Bellocq (1873 - 1949) was a photographer from New Orleans most noted for his photographs of prostitutes in New Orlean's Red Light District, Storyville, in the early nineteenth century. Bellocq was born into a prominent and wealthy family in New Orleans. He was well known around town as an amateur photographer, but quickly worked his way into becoming a professional by photographing ships, machinery for local companies, and photographic records of landmarks.
Bellocq, like many artists, was not extraordinarily interested in his professional subject matter. In his personal time he was photographic the darker sides of the Crescent City: Opium Dens in Chinatown and the prostitutes of Storyville.
After his death in 1949, most of Bellocq's negatives were destroyed by his only living relative, his brother (a Jesuit priest.) The Storyville photographs were later found, and purchased, by another photographer and have since become an interesting representation of Bellocq's work.
The Storyville photographs are an unique, albeit uncommon representation, of the women in the area. Some of the photographs are traditional portraiture, some photographs are completely nude. Some of the most interesting, and controversial, some of the images have the faces scratched out of the negatives.
There have been many theories over time about how and or why those faces have been scratched out. Also heavily debated is the perpetrator of the alteration of those images. The mystery of these images have inspired countless representations of Bellocq and his subject matter in literature and film.
Storyville, New Orleans red light district, was in operation from roughly 1897 - 1917. Bellocq's images are estimated to have been taken around 1912. Storyville was located near a the train depot making it extremely popular for travelers through the city. Storyville was named in honor of New Orleans City Councilman Sidney Story. Story helped write and pass legislation to legalize prostitution in a small area of the burgeoning port city. The Blue Book was a registry of the prostitutes active in Storyville, listed in alphabetical order, sold for twenty five cents. They became very popular in 1909, and today a simple google search can lead you to images of pages. These entries were essentially the business cards of the Storyville ladies of the night.
We are opening Scarlett Passions: Belloqc's Storyville this Saturday, October 22, 2016 at the R.W. Norton Art Gallery. It is certainly a very different exhibition for us. If you have never been through the R.W. Norton Art Gallery we are primarily a traditional American & European Fine Arts Museum. We are opening Scarlett Passions with a huge party, because why not!?! SPEAKEASY: A Prohibition Party is a celebration of all things prohibited.
Tickets are available on Eventbrite now! As of the draft of this post we were not sold out, but all of our Norton at Night events have sold out in the past so if you are interested I would suggest grabbing your tickets now! You can purchase them here!
P.S. The E. J. Bellocq Gallery of Photography at Louisiana Tech University, Seven of Ten & The Captain's alma mater, is named in his honor.