The Victorians are often seen as prudes, sexually repressed, god fearing folks, but nothing can be further from the truth as can be seen in these images from the early days of photography. Compared to our own sterile, scripted, shaven, “perfect” bodied porn, the people featured in these photos, have pubic hair, curves and soft bodies, the Men often have pot belies, some are balding. Although taken over 150 years ago the people in these images to me are more relatable.
The Worlds first photograph was taken in 1826 by Joseph Nicephore Niepce of some rooftops seen from an upstairs window of His estate in Burgundy using a process called Heliography where bitumen of Judea coated a piece of glass or metal. The Bitumen hardened in proportion to the amount of light that hit it. As this took anywhere from several hours to several days, it was an unsuitable method for capturing portraits.
In 1839 Louis Daguerre invented the first practical photographic process…the Daguerrotypes…unlike earlier processes the Daguerrotypes had amazing quality and did not fade over time. Artists soon took advantage of the new photographic technique to depict the nude form…usually at this time the Female form. To begin with the the only prescribed depictions of the body allowed were for the production of artists studies. Many of the surviving Daguerreotypes are not artists studies and are clearly erotic or pornographic. One Technique that definitely wasn’t used for artistic studies and was very popular with makers of nudes was the Stereoscope invented in 1838, it gave images a 3D type effect. Thousands were produced but only around 800 survive today.
The oldest known surviving nude Daguerrotypes of a Man 1843 and Woman 1839 photographer unknown.
Early Stereoscope c1840 photographer unknown.
Daguerrotypes did have a couple of drawbacks, first of all they were expensive, since the cost of one photo could cost the equivalent of a weeks wage and each image was an original as the all metal process did not use negatives, the audience mostly consisted of upper class patrons and artists. Another problem was the exposure time which could range from 3-15 minutes making them somewhat impractical for action shots and images were usually of single Women masturbating or exposing Their genitals.
Woman masturbating c1850 daguerreotype photographer unknown.
In 1841 William Fox Talbot patented the first negative- positive process called Calotype which allowed multiple images to be produced from a single glass negative allowing for true mass marketing and low cost images. Business boomed in 1848 thirteen studios exited in Paris, by 1860 there were 400! most of these studios produced nudes and made most of Their income from the sale of illicit nude images. Even though photography was booming, by 1855 no photographic nudes were registered as artists studies and the production of nudes went underground to avoid prosecution. The images were often sold at train stations by travelling sales men, or by Women who hid them under Their dresses. In Britain illicit images were often sold under the counter in bookshops, Holywell street in London being one particular hot spot, or sent though the post.
A selection of Calotype erotic images of various dates the photographers are once again unknown
In 1857 the British government banned the sale of obscene material which eventually led to the obscene publications act, and courts had the power to search for illegal pornography, seize, and destroy it. For many of the shop owners who sold the images, and those involved in the production and printing of images being found guilty meant imprisonment and often forced hard labour.
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