The nude is and always has been one of the most popular subjects for photography. No one knows exactly when the first nude photographs were taken, but they seem to have first turned up in Paris around 1845 at opticians, instrument makers and art dealers*.
The content of these images ranged widely, from nudes seen altogether decently from the back, in the manner of classical ‘academy figures’,all the way through to brazen displays of genitalia, from sex between lesbians to heterosexual coitus.
By far the greater proportion of the pictures was produced by men, for men. Thus they are representative of the general masculine imagination, or at least what the photographers assumed that to be. To appeal to that male audience, many pictures were taken which portray fellatio.
Lesbian activity features less than it would today, but male homosexual imagery is as explicit as it would be now, even though male homosexual acts were considered criminal at the time. Of course, the most popular subject of all is heterosexual intercourse in all its myriad configurations. For the photographer who could capture such scenes, there was then, as there is today, considerable money to be made.
The identity of very few, if any, of the models who posed for these forbidden pictures is known. Many of the models were prostitutes. In view of the situation faced by most of them – a lifetime of suffering, privation and pointless drudgery – posing for pornographic photographs must have seemed like a lucky break.
There is also evidence that a small number of the models were mental patients with little to no knowledge of what they were doing posing for the photos. The names of the photographers who took these pictures have not survived, either. The photos were produced outside the pale of formal artistic circumstances, and intended for popular consumption. The producers, often anonymous, were not professional artists with extensive training or discipline.
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Source: ‘The Rotenberg Collection – Forbidden Erotica‘ Published by Taschen
* Michael Koetzle, 1000 Nudes, Taschen GmbH, Cologne 1994, p.9.