Friday, 24 April 2009
Found in a drawer at his home in New Orleans in 1949, and first shown in 1970 at MOMA, EJ Bellocq's series of female portraits has left many questions unanswered. All taken around 1912 they were originally found as glass plate negatives, which came into possession of the American photographer Lee Friedlander. He subsequently was the person who made them into prints for the exhibition.
The subjects and Bellocq's relationship to these women is where the intrigue lies. Supposedly prostitutes, the majority of the portraits surprisingly fail to suggest the lingering 'male gaze'. The women appear especially comfortable, relaxed in Bellocq's presence and their surroundings. Perhaps they are sharing a lighthearted moment. But again we don't know the whole truth. When the women, clad in seductive stockings / draped in veils embrace the camera with a smile there is great tenderness in these photos. They are extraordinarily beautiful in all their decaying glory.
So we come to the photos that have been deliberately defaced/ scratched out. Far from the relaxed atmosphere previously shown, the scribbles here remove the women of all identity. They are now merely naked female bodies, just female parts robbed of respect with a more dark and sordid effect. But who did this defacing ?
There is a side of me that actually sees great beauty and strength in these scribbles particularly in the image below, the ghost of drawn butterfly above the woman's right hand on the wall. Also the fact that she is facing the wall, the angles of her arms create an interesting shape all help add to its charm.
Again I stick to my guns and reiterate the scribbles add a further mystery and weight to EJ Bellocq' s ever lasting enigma.