Misterioso e schivo E.J. Bellocq nel 1910 iniziò la propria carriera di fotografo in America, dilettandosi nella realizzazione di immagini a fine commerciale. Svolse la propria attività a New Orleans dove, nel quartiere a luci rosse di Storyville realizzò centinaia di fotografie immortalando prostitute colte in pose sensuali, intime, drammatiche. Il quartiere venne distrutto nel 1917, e furono perduti anche moltissimi scatti di Bellocq, che morì in solitudine nel 1949. La gloria, postuma, lo vide trionfare solo a partire dal 1966, quando Lee Friedlander scoprì in un antiquario a New Orleans suoi numerosi inediti scatti, che divennero presto oggetto di importanti mostre e pubblicazioni, tra cui Storyville Portraits (1970) e Red Light District of New Orleans (1996). Guardando queste immagini non è l’erotismo a prevalere, ma un senso di sconfinata solitudine, tanto lontana nel tempo quanto attuale. Viene voglia di chiedere a quelle donne i loro nomi, come siano finite lì. Vorremmo conoscere le loro storie. Vivono in un bordello arredato per illudere ci sia eleganza, risplende più evidente la fatiscenza. Sulle pareti lacere carte damascate. Compare il poster che sembra ritrarre la famosa attrice Lily Elsie, forse icona di una tra le ragazze costrette a una vita assai diversa. Un occhio tumefatto, un seno sfiorito, un ventre gonfio senza maternità, un sorriso che nasconde l’abbandono. Lola, Edy, Sarah, non hanno nulla da perdere, e si concedono, indolenti e inconsapevoli, alla gloria eterna grazie a queste fotografie.


Mysterious and bashful E.J. Bellocq in 1910 began his career as a photographer in America, delighting in the creation of images for commercial purposes. He carried out his business in New Orleans where, in the red light district of Storyville, he took hundreds of photographs immortalizing prostitutes caught in sensual, intimate, dramatic poses. The neighborhood was destroyed in 1917, and many shots of Bellocq, who died in solitude in 1949, were also lost. Glory, posthumously, saw him triumph only starting in 1966, when Lee Friedlander discovered his numerous unpublished works in an antiquarian in New Orleans shots, which soon became the subject of important exhibitions and publications, including Storyville Portraits (1970) and Red Light District of New Orleans (1996). Looking at these images it is not eroticism that prevails, but a sense of boundless solitude, as far away in time as it is current. I feel like asking those women for their names, how they ended up there. We would like to know their stories. They live in a brothel furnished to deceive there is elegance, the dilapidation shines more clearly. Damask cards on the tattered walls. The poster appears that seems to portray the famous actress Lily Elsie, perhaps an icon of one of the girls forced to live a very different life. A swollen eye, a faded breast, a swollen belly without motherhood, a smile that hides abandonment. Lola, Edy, Sarah, have nothing to lose, and indulge themselves and unwittingly, to eternal glory thanks to these photographs.

© COPYRIGHT Luciano Lapadula

Some photos – Alcune immagini:

It is morning in the house, from the window the light illuminates the room. On the walls, portraits of prostitutes, in the center, with her beautiful striped stockings, she is ready to start the shift, she drinks, so as not to weigh too much on it.
It’s morning. Flowers for a faded life
A casual smile for a new day equal to the previous one
Gibson Hairstyle. It is daytime and the short,
chubby girl is waiting for her customers
On the tattered wallpaper, the portrait of the actress Lily Elsie hangs. Life has given her a different destiny
Bathed in light. A smile resigned to the girl at the window behind into the darkness, the promise for the meeting
Afternoon A Venus of abandonment
The girl’s big eyes tell us about her atrocious fate, listen to her
Strike a pose. The photos on the wall describe excerpts from an interrupted life
Heavy upholstery covers sounds and lights
An angry trait erases identity
Unconventional late afternoon. It seems that the girl is drawing a butterfly on the wall, a symbol of short and free life
The girl with the erased face waits for customers lying in her négligée
What books will they ever be? And how strange that frame without picture. Maybe it’s a mirror.
A fast, furious trait erases the faces and identities of a “shameful” life
Fragments that crumble like the girl’s life
Waiting for a client, she wears a black silk mask
She wear the same mask as the previous photo wich hidden her face, she exhibits a tired body, a swollen belly without his child
A bed that knows no love
It’s night, Penny is my whole life
Immersed in her failures
Immersed in her failures
The day is over, maybe a last customer will come, so in the meantime let’s get distracted, play cards and drink, one, two, three bottles, not to think about it anymore
The last client has arrived. He was more drunk than I was. He pushed me to the bed, hit me hard, calling me a whore.

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