"The Downfall of Their Daughters": E.J. Bellocq's Storyville Portraits and Representations of Sex Work in the Fin de Siècle

Leveque, Mollie (2017) "The Downfall of Their Daughters": E.J. Bellocq's Storyville Portraits and Representations of Sex Work in the Fin de Siècle. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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Abstract

This thesis explores the “Storyville Portraits” as representations of sex work in the fin de siècle. Originally taken by New Orleanian commercial photographer E.J. Bellocq, the portraits’ negatives were hidden away until they were rediscovered by contemporary photographers, most notably Lee Friedlander. Over the years, the portraits have most often been treated as tragic, ominous, or read with an assumption of New Orleans’s exceptionalism. Despite renewed scholarly interest in Storyville, the city’s infamous redlight district, the portraits’ implications are still limited by these narratives, which have also generally emphasized Bellocq’s “outsider” status or focused on his intentions. However, I argue that the portraits resemble other transatlantic representations of urban sex work and are best read within those contexts. We can acknowledge their subversive qualities if we consider how, overall, they exist as part of the panorama these representations provide. At the same time, the portraits contradict many conventions of how “the prostitute” and even Storyville were portrayed in the 1900s. By using the mass and visual culture of four cities to pivot between my explorations, I explain how Bellocq provides us with another perspective on the sex worker: his work does not capitalize on his models’ demonized social status or simulate voyeurism to gratify the viewer. Their portrayals of sex work (or indeed of “deviant” women) as mundane is their most significant quality, and still, it has been largely overlooked.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Art, Media and American Studies
Depositing User: Chris White
Date Deposited: 30 Nov 2022 15:05
Last Modified: 30 Nov 2022 15:05
URI: https://ueaeprints.uea.ac.uk/id/eprint/89978
DOI:

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