The text below is the excerpt from the book Erotic Art Photography (ASIN: B016XN14AW), written by Alexandre Dupouy, published by Parkstone International.
The aim of this History of Erotic Photography is to present previously unpublished images, taking care to avoid those well known images taken by famous photographers which have already been the subject of monographs or numerous publications. The selection made here has no encyclopaedic value, and is based on eminently suggestive criteria. It is neither about presenting an exhaustive inventory, nor a specific objective. Choosing images is above all an expression of one’s own personal tastes, one’s infatuation for those women of old-fashioned charms, who, thanks to the wonder of the photographic miracle, have been preserved from the ravages of age and time.
It should be pointed out that the first decades of erotic photography were essentially French. The main reason for this is that photography was first developed in France, where research into new procedures of iconographic reproduction began in the 18th century. In the 19th century liberalism was more widespread in France than elsewhere. Licentious French images were imported into Italy, Spain, the United States, Germany and Great Britain, as their own production was much more limited due to the fact that it was more severely repressed.
As far as the first century of the history of photography is concerned (1839-1939), all the international collections both old and contempory comprise mainly French images. When the English authors Graham Ovenden and Peter Mendes entitled their work “Victorian Erotic Photography”, it was in fact largely made up of works of Parisian origin from Belloc, Braquehais, Durieu, Vallou and Villeneuve. When the American, Richard Merkin, professor at the Rhode Island School of Design, presented his collection in the work entitled “Velvet Eden”, the majority of the images are French. The first American images that he selected date from 1920, the first German ones from 1930, and together they only represent a tiny fraction of the total number. It is the same thing with such prolific collections as those of Uwe Scheid, the Kinsey Institute or even French collections both at museum level (the prints exhibition room of the National Library of France) and those in private hands.
One of the leading reference works in the field of erotic photography “Die, Erotik in der photographie” (three volumes published by half a dozen eminent doctors in Vienna in 1931) brings together the best of the German collections of the period and includes several hundred reproductions, the minority being German and Austrian, whereas the French production accounts for the majority of the period preceding the First World War.
However, this French particularity and specificity lessens throughout the 20th century and has nowadays completely disappeared. The same goes for all themes covered by photography.
Whatever the reason, the history of this French specificity could not have been told without the protection of this heritage by a number of passionate collectors (it may be a lewd and playful heritage, but it is representative of the morals and mentality of each period).
In paying hommage to them we should mention especially:
◦ Pierre Louÿs (1870-1925) writer, booklover, obsessed by the written word, was an untiring researcher into sexuality. He used his collections of photographs in order to draw up curious tables and reports for the “Ethnological observations of Parisian women of the lower classes”.
◦ Paul Caron (19th century) of whom we know little, left most of his collection to the National Library of France. This included several hand written descriptions on the backs of some of the images, when he received information about them.
◦ André Dignimont (1891 – 1965) painter of Parisian women of loose morals, costume designer for the theatre, and eclectic illustrator who could go from Oscar Wilde to Francis Carco, Dignimont was also a great collector of different types of historical documents. He had amassed a collection of which pride of place went to the sign of a brothel which used to be located at 106 avenue de Suffren. Erotic photography occupied pride of place in this large collection.
◦ Michel Simon (1895-1975) The famous actor did not hide his infatuation for all things sexual and did not hesitate to describe himself as a lover of debauchery. After his death, his heirs found in his house at Noisy-le-Grand a veritable Ali Baba’s cave full of books, objects and photographs. He had acquired part of the estate of Pierre Louÿs.
The curious and obsessional minds of these collectors ensured the protection of a heritage for which the institutions had no interest for a long time…
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