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Early Victorian Erotic Photography

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Vintage Erotica

Early Victorian Erotic Photography by Irene Forde.


The early history of erotic photography is a fascinating glimpse into an age of strict morality, when a woman's naked form sent men into a frenzy and gave their wives a touch of the vapours!

Pictures of nude women prior to 1835 generally consisted of paintings and drawings which were displayed in all respectability on the walls of art galleries and in country houses.

When the new technology of photography appeared around 1835 it was quickly taken up by artists, eager for new ways to illustrate the undraped feminine form.

In the moral climate of the 19th century the only officially sanctioned photography of the body was for the production of artist's studies.

However many photographs were produced as erotic or pornographic images for the 'discerning gentleman.' There was a lot of money to be made by entrepreneurs of the day who sold these 'daring' images to those who could afford them - mainly the gentry and well-to-do.


Erotica in the 19th and early 20th century took the form of literature, photography, sculpture and paintings, which dealt substantively with erotically stimulating or arousing descriptions.


Some photographers often hired burlesque actresses as models for nude and semi-nude photographs. The French did a roaring trade selling erotic 'postcards' to American tourists. These would now be termed soft-core, but they were quite shocking for the time.

The Victorian pornographic tradition in Britain had three main elements: French photographs, erotic prints (sold in shops in Holywell Street, a long vanished London thoroughfare, swept away by the Aldwych), and printed literature.


The ability to reproduce photographs in bulk assisted the rise of a new business individual, the porn dealer. Many of these dealers took advantage of the postal system to send out photographic cards in plain wrappings to their subscribers.


William Fox Talbot invented the first negative-positive process in 1843, making possible multiple copies. In time this enabled a true mass market for pornographic pictures . Paris soon became the centre of this trade.


In 1848 only thirteen photography studios existed in Paris; by 1860, there were over 400. Most of them profited by selling illicit pornography to the masses who could now afford it.


The pictures were also sold near train stations, by traveling salesmen and women in the streets who hid them under their dresses. They were often produced in sets (of four, eight or twelve), and exported internationally, mainly to England and the United States.


Both the models and the photographers were commonly from the working class, and the artistic model excuse was increasingly hard to use.

By 1855, no more photographic nudes were being registered as acadamie, and the business had gone underground to escape prosecution. Therefore, the development of a reliable international postal system facilitated the beginnings of the pornography trade.


Later on publications masquerading as "art magazines" celebrated the new cult of naturism, with titles such as Photo Bits, Body in Art, Figure Photography, Nude Living and Modern Art for Men.


The publication 'Health and Efficiency', started in 1900, was a typical naturist magazine in Britain. The beginnings of the 'top shelf' magazines sold in newsagents today.



Article Source: Irene Forde is a writer and publisher of Craft and Business publications. 6,600 images on CD at my website which is at Author Profile: riviera