ERNEST J. BELLOCQ (1873–1949)
Storyville Portrait, New Orleans, c. 1911-1913
gelatin silver print, printed 1929-1949
image: 2414 x 2012 in. (61.5 x 52 cm.)
Private collector;
acquired from the above by the present owner.
Exhibition catalogue, E.J. Bellocq: Storyville Portraits, Photographs from the New Orleans Red-Light District, circa 1912, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1970, pl. 14.
E.J. Bellocq, Bellocq: Photographs from Storyville, The Red-Light District of New Orleans, Random House, New York, 1996, p. 37.
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Lot Essay

Almost completely lost to history, E.J. Bellocq and his photography have garnered a mystique
over the last sixty years since his negatives were salvaged by Lee Friedlander. The photograph on offer here, the largest lifetime print known to exist, is an exciting, recent discovery.

E.J. Bellocq was a commercial photographer from New Orleans, Louisiana, active from 1895-1940. His only surviving work, Storyville, comprises 89 glass plate negatives of prostitutes from the local red-light district. When Belloq died, his negatives fell into the hands of Larry Borenstein who ran an antique shop. It was at this shop where Lee Friedlander unearthed the work in 1966. Friedlander became enamored with them and quickly purchased them. This work was eventually brought to the attention of John Szarkowski, Director of the Museum of Modern Art, who exhibited Friedlander’s modern prints from the original negatives the same year.

Originally made in 1912, the Storyville portraits give an intimate glimpse into a forbidden world, displaying a warmth and familiarity with his subjects, yet it remains unclear whether this project was a commercial assignment or a personal one. There is much mystery surrounding this artist and its forgotten history.

The Storyville photograph on offer here is the largest known lifetime print by the artist and was made in the late 1920s or 1930s, as confirmed by recent forensic testing. The printer was possibly Pops Whitesell who was known at the time for his gelatin silver enlargements. The photograph was first found at an estate auction in New Orleans, where it was purchased by a collector, and then later acquired by the present owner. Curious and alluring, this print broadens our appreciation and understanding of Bellocq's project.

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