Pulp Pix: The Bizarre Case of Photography Noir – American Museum of Photography
She told me her name was “Laurelle.”
“Pretty name,” I said, “Laurel. Like the tree.” She frowned. Big-time. “No way, José,” she countered, “it’s pronounced ‘law-REL.’ Even a Francophobe like you can get it right. Now, say it: ‘law-REL.'”
While I was pondering that Francophobe remark, Laurelle told me she worked backstage at a New York theater, slathering makeup on overpaid dancers in some artsy musical. She had a job on the side, though. She was self-employed, if you know what I mean. That’s right: Laurelle was a picker. A scrounger. The kind of person who will poke around crummy junk shops and comb through disreputable flea markets hoping to find some overlooked treasure amid the trash. She seemed like the type who would go after pretty porcelain dolls… but when I walked into her lair, she was peddling something else: seamy, steamy, overheated photographs.
This dame Laurelle had stumbled onto the mother lode of pulp pix — photos taken to illustrate cheap paperbacks and sleazy magazines filled with detective stories and true tales of lurid crimes. “You should buy them all,” she told me, grabbing my elbow. But I was playing the part of the big lug that day — too stupid to see that Laurelle knew the score. This was her treasure trove, all right. She twisted my arm so hard I thought it would pop out of the socket if I didn’t say “Uncle” and reach for my wallet. I picked up a few — a kidnapping here, a strangler there — and then it was time to take them back to the office and figure them out. I had a real “whodunnit” on my hands.
I still don’t know who was the mad genius behind Laurelle’s pulp pix. But there are plenty of clues. Maybe someone out there knows the answer. Or maybe you can play Sam Spade and figure it out. Consider it a double-dare, Sherlock.
And don’t give me any guff about aesthetics, Buster. This is my Museum, and if I say it’s Art, it’s Art.
If you don’t like it, go find yourself some Fantin-Latours to gaze at. We’ve got more important things to do. There are mysteries to solve.
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