History of erotic photography


History of erotic photography
19th-century nude photographs featured the ideal body of the time, frequently with trimmed pubic hair
Woman with camera. Photo by Alfred Cheney Johnston, 1920 or before
The warm relationship Bellocq had with his sitters is reflected in their seeming lack of self-consciousness.

Erotic photography is a style of art photography of an erotic and even a sexually suggestive or sexually provocative nature. Though the subjects of erotic photography are usually completely or mostly unclothed, that is not a requirement. Erotic photography dating from 1835 until the 1960s is often referred to in the years since as vintage photography. Erotic photography should be distinguished from pornographic photography, which is of a sexually explicit nature.

Contents

Beginnings

Depictions of nudity before 1835 generally consisted of paintings and drawings. That year, Louis Daguerre invented the first practical process of photography.[1] Unlike earlier photographs, his daguerreotypes had stunning quality and did not fade with time. The new technology did not go unnoticed by artists eager for new ways to depict the undraped feminine form.

In Nude Photography, 1840–1920, Peter Marshall notes: "In the prevailing moral climate at the time of the invention of photography, the only officially sanctioned photography of the body was for the production of artist's studies. Many of the surviving examples of daguerreotypes are clearly not in this genre but have a sensuality that clearly implies they were designed as erotic or pornographic images".[2]

The daguerreotypes were not without drawbacks, however. The main difficulty was that they could only be reproduced by photographing the original picture. In addition, the earliest daguerreotypes had exposure times ranging from three to fifteen minutes, making them somewhat impractical for portraiture. Since one picture could cost a week's salary, the audience for nudes mostly consisted of artists and the upper echelon of society.[3] Nude stereoscopy began in 1838 and became extremely popular.

French influence

The initial appearance of picture postcards (and the enthusiasm with which the new medium was embraced) raised some legal issues that can be seen as precursors to later controversies over the internet. Picture postcards allowed and encouraged many individuals to send images across national borders, and the legal availability of a postcard image in one country did not guarantee that the card would be considered "proper" in the destination country, or in the intermediate countries that the card would have to pass through. Some countries refused to handle postcards containing sexual references (in seaside postcards) or images of full or partial nudity (for instance, in images of classical statuary or paintings).

Instead, nudes were marketed in a monthly magazine called "La Beaute" that targeted artists looking for poses. Each issue contained 75 nude images which could be ordered by mail, in the form of postcards, hand-tinted or sepia toned. Street dealers, tobacco shops, and a variety of other vendors bought the photographs for resale to tourists.

Early 20th century

The early 1900s saw several important improvements in camera design, including the 1913 invention of the 35 mm or "candid" camera by Oskar Barnack of the Ernst Leitz company. The Ur-Leica was a compact camera based on the idea of reducing the format of negatives and enlarging them later, after they had been exposed. This small, portable device made nude photography in secluded parks and other semi-public places easier, and represented a great advance for amateur erotica. Artists were enamored with their new ability to take impromptu photos without carrying around a clunky apparatus.

Early 20th century artist E. J. Bellocq, who made his best known images with the older style glass plate negatives, is best remembered for his down-to-earth pictures of prostitutes in domestic settings in the Storyville red light district of New Orleans. In contrast to the usual pictures of women awkwardly posed amid drapery, veils, flowers, fruit, classical columns and oriental braziers, Bellocq's sitters appear relaxed and comfortable. David Steinberg speculates that the prostitutes may have felt at ease with Bellocq because he was "so much of a fellow outcast."

Julian Mandel became known in the 1920s and 1930s for his exceptional photographs of the female form. Participating in the German "new age outdoor movement," Mandel took numerous pictures in natural settings, publishing them through the Paris-based studios of A. Noyer and PC Paris.[4] A Johns Hopkins University scholarship was named in his honor.

Another noteworthy nude photographer of the first two decades of the 20th century was Arundel Holmes Nicholls. His work, featured in the archives of the Kinsey Institute, is artistically composed, often giving an iridescent glow to his figures.[5] Following in Mandel's footsteps, Nicholls favored outdoor shots.

Many photographs from this era are damaged; Bellocq, for instance, frequently scratched out the faces of his sitters to obscure their identities. Some of his other sitters were photographed wearing masks. Peter Marshall writes, "Even in the relatively bohemian atmosphere of Carmel, California in the 1920s and '30s, Edward Weston had to photograph many of his models without showing their faces, and some 75 years on, many communities are less open about such things than Carmel was then."[6]

Photographers around the middle of the century of note are Walter Bird, John Everard, Horace Roye, Harrison Marks and Zoltán Glass. Roye's photograph Tomorrow's Crucifixion, depicting a model wearing a gas mask while on a crucifix caused much controversy when published in the English Press in 1938. The image is now considered one of the major pre-war photographs of the 20th century.

While there is some overlap in the time periods, the term erotic photography begin to be less commonly applied to such photography after the 1960s. After this time, the term glamour photography is more commonly used.

See also

References

External links


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