No sooner had photography been developed in the mid nineteenth century then enterprising Frenchmen immediately realised that this new medium could be used to take pictures of naked women. As we discussed on our The Seduction of Venus blog when looking at some early girl/girl photographs the early French erotic photographs were taken using the daguerreotype process which meant that each one was a one-off original which could not be reproduced; meaning they cost the equivalent of a week's wages for the average person.
By the early to mid eighteen-fifties the technology had moved on to the ambrotype or collodion positive which was much cheaper to produce than a daguerreotype. It also lacked the mirror-like metallic surface of the latter making it easier to view.
In addition, ambrotypes were often tinted for added realism and also because they didn't have the contrast of daguereotypes. One of the biggest disappointments for most people, when viewing a photograph for the first time in this period, it seems, was the lack of colour.
These pictures were all taken in and around 1855; over one hundreed and fifty years ago. They range from the rather coy to pictures that were not dissimilar in pose and explicitness to those published in magazines like Penthouse 120 years later.
Just to give an idea of the distance back in time that is represented here, 1855 saw Britain and France fighting the Crimean War against the Russians, Charlotte Brontë died, King Camp Gilette was born, the official Bordeaux wine classification was devised, The Daily Telegraph was first published and the first bridge over the Mississippi opened.
Boulevard du Temple, Paris 1838 (detail)
The very first photograph of a living human being had only been made 17 years earlier. Louis Daguerre's photograph of Boulevard du Temple needed a ten minute exposure and, as a result, most of the people and traffic in the scene do not appear as they didn't remain still enough to be captured on film. There are a number of people who did stay in the same place for that time and you can just catch the man having his shoes cleaned and another sat at a table nearby.
The technology had moved on and by 1855 exposures of only a few seconds were needed. In studios scattered around Paris the first young ladies were being persuaded to take all their clothes off and have their rounded little bodies recorded for posterity and the entertainment of others.
They are all a rather similar body type because, of course, women 150 years ago were very petite, averaging only just over five feet tall, so they tend to have short legs and stocky bodies.
As we have noted in our other pieces on The Seduction of Venus, the appeal of these photographs to collectors at the time was that they were the record of real people rather than the idealised fantasy of an artist; artists who, themselves, because of the nature of art teaching at the time, were overly influenced by the portrayal of women seen in classical statues.
These pocket venuses, with their soft curves, speak to us too from back in time where, occasionally, as in the study above, you find a haunting face staring back at you that you could see on any street today.
More women from the early days of photography another time.