The depiction of the nude female nature was not an innovation – for centuries, artists have painted women without clothes. Of course, when photography ceased to be a rarity, the attention of some photographers turned precisely to this direction.
Probably, the original idea of such shots was to capture the beauty of female forms, and not to excite the viewer. But as the genre developed, the photographs became more and more provocative: the ladies still had clothes on, but the buttons were unbuttoned, bedroom furniture appeared as an interior, and the model began to interact with the camera – look into the lens. As if looking directly at the viewer.
The authorities wished to control the sale of such images. And in the years 1840-1850, when daguerreotypes were in use, it was not difficult to do this – there were few photographers, and, for example, in France they were all required to register.
But photography became more accessible and therefore cheaper, studios began to open, and so-called “risky postcards” (risqué) appeared in Paris. And the more they became, the more difficult it was to control their sale.
The heyday of the sale of erotic cards came between the 1890s and 1930s. The very word “postcard” is more of a euphemism. Although some of the photographs did have blank address lines on the back, they were collected, not mailed. And the size of the pictures made it easy to hide provocative pictures almost anywhere.
The studios wanted to get more profit, and therefore erotic photographs very quickly turned into a mass product, their quantity became more important than quality. Usually, the shots of one model were taken in a series of 12 pieces, photographing her first fully dressed, and then gradually exposed. In the last photo, the model posed completely naked or topless. Such series were called “French postcards”, they were the most popular goods.
Although the studios put their logos on some postcards, the business was semi-legal. Very few photographers dared to sign their “works”, no one wanted to risk their reputation. Even less was known about the models themselves. If at first it was assumed that Parisian prostitutes were in the frame, it later turned out that ordinary women from the working class were also filming, who moonlighted by posing.
Photographers and models
But the names of some of the most famous photographers have come down to us: Jean Agelou, Louis Amadeus Mant and Julien Mandel.
Among the models came across not only prostitutes, working-class women and professional models. There were also actresses and music hall singers such as Kiki de Montparnasse, Maud d’Orby and Nina Barkis.
For a long time, Miss Fernand remained one of the most famous models. She was the favorite model and muse of Jean Agelou. Until now, collectors hunt for her pictures. Presumably, she was a Parisian courtesan at the beginning of the 20th century. By the way, she appeared not only on “French postcards”, but also on the pages of a magazine for artists. She has filmed over the years, showing how her body changes from a young girl to a mature woman. She probably used postcards for her work, so many of them were signed with her name.
Now such vintage pictures with naked beauties are a tasty morsel and a coveted trophy for collectors.