French photographer E.J. Bellocq took photographs inside Storyville in New Orleans, North America’s only legalized red-light district, before it shut down in 1917. Storyville photographs document not only the prostitutes but also the interiors of the businesses that housed them.
All of the photographs are portraits of women. Negatives were severely damaged, partly deliberately, which led to speculation. Most of the faces had been scraped off; whether Bellocq did this, his Jesuit priest brother who inherited them after E.J.’s death, or someone else is unknown. Since the damage was done while the emulsion was still wet, Bellocq is the most likely candidate. Photographer Lee Friedlander acquired them and printed the 8 x 10 negatives on the same gold-toned printing-out paper that Bellocq used in his rare prints. His efforts helped preserve and revitalize E.J.’s work.