This image is one of the reasons I love photography so much- its magical ability to capture something so fleeting, so momentary, so telling, something so uncomfortable yet real and at the same time not. This young woman was a prostitute from a brothel in Storyville, the red light district in New Orleans, circa 1912. Bellocq, who was impotent, frequented these brothels as an artist, managing to persuade many of the women to sit willingly for him. These are glass plate negatives (taken around the time and place where Jazz was invented). They are beautifully printed and thankfully remain unaltered from the surface corrosion, which has become an important part of the images. They came into the possession of Lee Friedlander in 1970, when he had them printed, exhibited and published in The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Bellocq “Storyville Portraits”
I wonder how much owning this incredible archive influenced Friedlanders own series of equally incredible “Nudes” that he started photographing in the 70’s and continued working on for thirteen years. There is something about possessing an archive of incredible images that stays with you and somehow seeps into your own life and art in curious ways. Having an archive is an intensely personal experience as a photographer that can sublimate your own art. I think this is the case with Friedlander, as his nudes are sublime and possess something of an understated genius not unlike Bellocq. I was lucky enough to buy Friedlanders book years ago and I frequently go back to it to remind myself of what photography in all its simple complexity can and should be.
(Part of the series of fifty-two photographs were exhibited at Moma in 1991.) Taken simply with a 35mm film Leica and portable flash.