Images of Sex Work in Early Twentieth-Century America: Gender, Sexuality and Race in the Storyville Portraits
Storyville was the infamous red-light district of New Orleans. It was a world where normative social values didn't apply and was shrouded in mystery and myth until the photographs of E.J. Bellocq were rediscovered. Bellocq's depictions of Storyville's sex workers have typically been treated as tragic, ominous and emblematic of New Orleans' singularity. Yet, such interpretations have projected gendered stereotypes of frailty and victimhood onto the women they portrayed. In Images of Sex Work, Mollie LeVeque interrogates these glib readings and argues that sex work was a routine aspect of life in a modern city. She supports this theory by examining a range of cultural forms such as crime fiction, illustrations and paintings from contemporary urban centres like Paris, London and New York. In doing so, she advances the new argument that Bellocq humanised his subjects, de-sensationalised sex work and gave these women the dignity they were all too often denied.