Wednesday February 24th 2016
The US Embassy London American Studies Lecture
Professor Russ Castronovo
|“Untitled,” E.J. Bellocq – scan made from “Storyville Portraits” (Little, Brown & Co, 1970)|
[The models] were very pretty, and that’s something that I never ran across in my life, was a pretty whore. I mean, that I knew of. Maybe I’ve seen some on streetcars, and, you know, busses, and they may have been. I wouldn’t know that. But I mean in any of those places, I’ve never seen anything that resembled beauty.This is a telling remembrance, especially considering that there were essentially two Storyvilles – one for black patrons, another for white patrons. Given Bellocq was a white Creole and his models' appearances, we can assume he worked in “white” Storyville. Facilities for black customers were in a different section and amounted to cheap cribs: narrow rooms with a bed and little else. They operated on efficiency rather than luxury. Women who worked in cribs were older, less conventionally “attractive,” dark skinned women of color, or otherwise less marketable. They were more likely to be hassled by police or pimps and be without the comparative “protection” of a brothel, yet they still functioned as part of a unified community. The portraits’ tension and intrigue, then, often reside in what they do not confirm. This includes the existence of “black” Storyville, whose women were more represented in police mug shots than portraits because of racist assumptions and practices.