Wood s lot always seems to find the good stuff. There’s a very good article about Ernest J. Bellocq by Rex Rose at Exquisite Corpse. It overturns some of the stereotyped information about the odd New Orleans photographer. It seems that he didn’t have an enlarged head, and his brother didn’t deface his negatives— Bellocq did.
Photographic books go out of print so quickly. I’m glad I found a copy of the second printing of the monograph. The scratched-out faces on his negatives seem to be something common to photographers of the early twentieth century; I wish I could remember the name of the Bakersfield photographer from the thirties that I saw that did the same thing. While it wasn’t a conscious “artistic” gesture, as far as I can see, the side effect is somewhat disturbing. In this century, we seem to want to be disturbed, so the resurfacing of these artifacts is not surprising.
However, I think that some of the distressed negatives might well be appreciated by the photographers who created them. I am reminded in my favorite Bellocq photograph, displayed above, of Kertéz’s broken plate, which for him symbolized his entry into America. In a lot of ways, embracing the accident is also a mark of modernist photography. But to read the violence, so much a part of Pop art, into these acts is too big of a stretch.