At first glance, this woman, a prostitute in the Storyville district of New Orleans around 1912, seems to have a look of insouciant amusement, of ironic detachment, on her face.  Study it a bit longer and you see the sadness, the despair, in her demeanor.  The insouciant attitude was probably a professional mask — good enough for a drunken client in a room lit by gaslight or lamplight — but starting to crumble a bit in the light of day.

I think it’s one of the most remarkable portraits in the history of photography.

This woman might have been walking along a street in New Orleans one day near where she worked and have seen an eleven year-old Louis Armstrong selling papers on a street corner.

Click on the image to enlarge.