John Ernest Joseph Bellocq was a professional photographer who worked in New Orleans during the early 20th century. He made his living by taking photographic records of landmarks and of ships and machinery for local companies. However, he also took personal photographs of the hidden side of local life, notably the opium dens in Chinatown and the prostitutes of Storyville.
After his death, most of his negatives and prints were destroyed. Many of the negatives were badly damaged, in part deliberately. This encouraged speculation about the reasons why they had been taken and later violated. Many of the faces had been scraped out; whether this was done by E. J. Bellocq himself, his Jesuit priest brother who inherited them after E. J.’s death, or someone else is unknown. However, the Storyville negatives were later found concealed in a sofa. In 1971, a selection of the photographs were published in a book entitled Storyville Portraits. They had been made into distinctive prints by Lee Friedlander, using the whole of the glass negatives. These photographs were immediately acclaimed for their unique poignancy and beauty.