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BELLOCQ ÉPOQUE: THE “STORYVILLE PORTRAITS”

LATE ONE BERLIN NIGHT in 1991, a famous German fashion photographer invited me and two friends to join him for a trip to Bel Ami, his favorite brothel in the Grunewald. The presence of a woman as a customer created a ripple of surprise, but the photographer, being a regular and popular visitor, put them at ease. Glossy prints of his published photographs of the house, group portraits of the “girls” who worked there and the pimp (“host”), were hanging on the walls. Though the setting was a German villa, the props were familiar: patterned wallpaper, heart-shaped velvet pillows, mirrors, chandeliers, gilded Turkish figurines holding red lamps, pink fleshy faux-Baroque nude paintings. One could imagine the same prevalence of gold and red in the brothels of Storyville, the red-light district of New Orleans in the early part of the century.

We drank overpriced splits of cheap champagne with the

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