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Bellocq's Nudes

2002-01-27 20:24:28+00 by Dan Lyke 2 comments

There's a Salon article on E.J. Bellocq's pictures of New Orleans prostitutes that's really pretty unremarkable, except for this piece of amazing cluelessness:

Another mystery concerning Bellocq's photos are the defaced women. Roughly a dozen negatives have the models' faces rubbed off in a black swirl. The resulting prints look as if Jackson Pollock has doodled over the naked women's faces. "Why are some of the faces scratched out?" Lee Friedlander asks rhetorically. "Nobody knows. I think Bellocq did it himself, but there is no way to know. Some people think his brother, the Jesuit priest, did it, but I think that's silly. I don't really know."

One has only to go to, say, Voyeurweb, to see that the digital library of the future will have lots of images with defaced women and men, exhibitionists who'd rather remain anonymous. Are the critics and commentators so caught up in their subject that they've forgotten that these things happen within a culture? Yeesh.

[ related topics: Photography Erotic Sexual Culture Sociology ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:34:50+00 by: other_todd

Okay, but let's consider this for a second. There are basically three reasons why a subject in a nude or suggestive photo would want have the distinguishing marks removed:

  1. The subject was embarrassed at having been in the photo, but not embarrassed enough to destroy it.
  2. The photographer was embarrassed at having taken the photo, but not embarrassed enough to destroy it.
  3. External forces (the law/bluenoses) disliked the photo or were embarrassed by it, but not enough to destroy it. (Exceedingly unlikely.)

To that I suppose we should add a fourth:

  1. Someone was trying to protect someone else's reputation/conceal their identity (but, again, not enough to destroy the photo).

Bellocq, so the argument goes, certainly didn't seem like the type to be embarrassed by his work. (It's been a while since I read that Storyville history, but I seem to recall that he didn't consider the photos pornographic either.) And his brother would have just destroyed the stuff. So to my mind either 1) Bellocq, who was a strange guy to begin with, had some sort of dramatic change of mind at some point in his life or 2) Bellocq was protecting his subjects.

Not that this contradicts any of your other conclusions, Dan, either about why people remove their faces from saucy photos in the present day or the banality of Salon articles.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:34:51+00 by: Dan Lyke

I think we're in violent agreement: Bellocq was protecting his subjects. That's so much more likely than any[Wiki] of the other possibilities that it seems ridiculous to speculate about Jesuit nephews or whatever.