E. J. Bellocq


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American photographer. Little is known about his life. The traditional image of him as a hydrocephalic dwarf, a kind of grotesque Toulouse-Lautrec figure, is almost certainly incorrect. He took up photography, initially as a hobby, in the 1890s, after dropping out of Jesuit college. He is remembered entirely for a set of photographs which survived only in glass negative form (he may never have printed them himself), of women, usually assumed to be prostitutes, in the Storyville area of New Orleans, taken just before the First World War. (The popular name for the area came from Alderman Sydney Story who tried to ‘clean up’ the area by restricting the trade to a small district.) The quality of the images has been compared to the paintings of Vermeer. Certainly few other artists in any medium and addressing such a limited social environment can have achieved such a variety of images of women that combine visual beauty with a sense of inner life which overrides any trace of objectification. The 89 surviving negatives, some severely damaged, were discovered by the photographer Lee Friedlander in 1966 and published in 1970.

Further Reading

N. Goldin, ‘Bellocq Epoque–E. J. Bellocq’, Artforum International (May 1997)

Subjects: Art.

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