Tuesday, March 08, 2005

How Does a Photograph Show Respect?


Bellocq, originally uploaded by Kris Cohen.


In his essay "Falkland Road" Eliot Weinberger compares Mary Ellen Mark's Falkland Road to E.J. Bellocq's Photographs from Storyville. Both are books of photography. Both contain images taken in brothels, Mark's in Bombay (1978), Bellocq's in New Orleans (1912).

Here is Weinberger on Mark's images:

"Falkland Road is a piece of the world that few of us could stand for more than a few minutes. Yet packaged as _Falkland Road_ it is an object with some popular appeal, though it is neither pornography nor reformist exposé. Its attaction, as far as I can tell, is its double dream: First, the dream of travel and its unchanging equation of exotic and erotic: sex, as we all know, is always more available, and wilder, someplace else. Second, the dream of the photograph: to see everything in the world—at a safe distance. These dreams are so powerful that they obscure the dreary evidence of the photographs themselves. Who can resist these images of 'real' people fucking in some strange corner of the earth? It is like watching firemen battle a blaze around the corner, knowing that one's own house is safe."

And Weinberger on Bellocq's images:

"Bellocq, a hydrocephalic dwarf, befriended—and never hired—the prostitutes; his photographs, a dialogue between outcasts, remain among the most loving portraits of women. Although nothing is known of these women—and little of Bellocq himself—no cpations are necessary: Storyville lives in a way that Falkland Road, despite Mark's claim of love and frienship for these 'special women,' never does. And Bellocq, of course, woudl never have used the phrase 'special women.'"

And finally, Susan Sontag on Bellocq's images:

"How far we are, in Bellocq's company, from the staged sadomasochistic hijinks of the bound women offering themselves up to the male gaze (or worse) in the disturbingly acclaimed photographs of Nobuyoshi Araki or the cooler, more stylish, unvaryingly intelligent lewdness of the images devised by Helmut Newton. The only pictures that do seem salacious—or convey something of the meanness and abjection of a prostitute's life—are those (eleven in this selection) on which the faces have been scratched out. (In one, the vandal—could it have been Bellocq himself?—missed the face.) These pictures are actually painful to look at, at least for this viewer. But then I am a woman and, unlike many men who look at these pictures, find nothing romantic about prostitution. That part of the subject I do take pleasure in is the beauty and forthright presence of many of the women, photographed in homely circumstances that affirm both sensuality and domestic case, and the tangibleness of their vanished world. How touching, good natured, and respectful these pictures are."
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