E. J. Bellocq was an interesting man – he was a professional photographer, but it wasn't until after his death that glass negatives with pictures of prostitutes were found in his belongings. A New Orleans resident, Bellocq had taken dozens of photos of the girls of Storyville, the New Orleans red light district.
Storyville was a neighborhood just outside of the French Quarter at the turn of the 20th century, a time when prostitution was legal in New Orleans. A city official had decided that the best thing for the city would be to contain the ladies of the night to one particular section of town, and thus Storyville was born – all 18 blocks of it. There were bars, music halls, and, of course brothels, some of which attracted very upper-class clientele.
Unfortunately, very little is known today about life in Storyville. Prostitution was made illegal in 1917, and by 1940, everything had been torn down to make way for the Iberville Housing Project. These photos, taken by Bellocq in what may or may not have been a professional capacity, tell the story of these women that is otherwise lost to time. You see them socializing, drinking, dressed up in various outfits. Some of them pose completely in the nude.
You can get a sense of their emotions, their attitudes from seeing their faces and how they show themselves to the camera. Much of what happened in the 20 years that the brothels flourished may be gone forever, but these haunting photos live on to tell the tale.