Some of my favourite present day photographers have lead me to truly inspiring and interesting photographers from the past. Ernest J. Bellocq, being one of them. Bellocq was a working photographer during the early 20th century. After his death in 1949, most of his negatives and prints were destroyed (how dare!!!), but the work that he is best known for – probably because they were the only negatives found – were the prostitutes of Storyville, New Orleans. Few at the time knew of the personal photographs he was taking. He was making a living by mostly taking photographic records of landmarks, ships and machinery for local companies, which I can only imagine was a rather stifling job for a creative, and thus had to fill his creative desires as a photographer during his personal time.
What I love so much about these photographs, aside from the subjects (I’m highly intrigued by prostitutes from the past), is that Bellocq made this work for seemingly no one but himself. Which arguably today, a lot of photographers begin by making work to fill a personal desire, but there is also a desire for it to be seen and there are so many platforms in which it can be viewed by almost anyone – it’s almost unfathomable to me now that a photographer wouldn’t have a website (or instagram etc etc). I love the idea of a creative who made art just for himself, because he needed to. He needed no encouragement or reassurance, it’s just what he did. It makes me imagine all the other photographers and artists out there, in the past and present day, whose work will never be seen, and that is/was okay with them. Obviously that is not the case with Bellocq, his work eventually came to light, but I do have to wonder if he ever thought to himself that his work would become so highly regarded over 100 years after they had been taken. I have a feeling that was never the intention.