One of the most unique features of New Orleans are our famous above-ground cemeteries. Building on swampy lands, below sea-level, New Orleanians have had to adapt over the years, and our stone crypts and mausoleums are a direct result of that adaptation to our environment. New Orleans’ cemeteries host a plethora of interesting characters from the city’s history, including the “Voodoo Queen” Marie Laveau, as well as photographer, E.J. Bellocq.
Bellocq’s grave is located in St. Louis Cemetery No. 3, just off Esplanade Avenue, near Bayou St. John. John Ernest Joseph Bellocq was born in 1873, the son of a wealthy white French Creole family. He became famous for his photographs of Storyville prostitutes during the early 20th century. When Bellocq passed away in 1949, many of his negatives and prints were destroyed. The Storyville portraits that Bellocq is so famous for surfaced years after his death, when they were purchased and exhibited by Lee Friedlander in the early 1970s. The portraits are notable not only because they show a hidden glimpse of the life of Storyville madams, but they are also some of the only surviving images of what the interior of these businesses looked like, before the Storyville brothels were razed in the 1930s to make way for the Iberville Housing Project.
Bellocq explored many off-the-beaten-track areas of New Orleans with his camera, including the opium dens of Chinatown. His photos from those excursions, much like Chinatown itself, no longer exist. (While New Orleans was once home to the largest Chinatown in the Southern U.S., it was diminished in the 1930s to make way for the Tulane Medical Center.) Bellocq also worked as a professional photographer, capturing more traditional subjects on film, such as landmarks, ships and machinery, for local companies as well as the Louisiana State Museum.
These days you can visit Bellocq at his final resting place, inside St. Louis Cemetery No. 3. It’s a short walk from City Park and the end of the Canal Streetcar line, as well as a frequent stop for group tours.