A tale of indecent exposures: The apparently respectable French pioneers of 19th-century photography sold pornographic and erotic prints on the side, says John Windsor

The fathers of French photography lined their pockets by selling erotic and pornographic photographs on the side, according to a book to be published next month. Three years' detective work by the Swiss author-photographer Serge Nazarieff has unmasked the big names behind an undercover trade in female nude photographs which spread through Europe from 1849, after shorter exposure times had made photography of live subjects possible.

Queen Victoria - unaware of their more furtive activities - praised the work of the pioneer Parisian photographers who invented new apparatus and chemical processes, published scientific papers and won prizes at international exhibitions such as the 1851 Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace.

The production of erotic photographs was confined to Paris. So Mr Nazarieff's revelations indicate that the British view of the French as a saucy, ooh-la-la lot has some basis. The spirit was not shared by the French judiciary: jail sentences awaited French pornographers. But the ultra-respectable founders of the new technology had a 'front': they registered photographs of chaste, academic 'artists' model' nudes at the National Library in Paris, thus securing not only copyright but freedom from prosecution - provided they sold the photographs only to bona fide artists and did not display them for sale.

The more libidinous, sometimes pornographic, poses that they had snapped during the same shoots were then offered 'under the cape' to well-heeled voyeurs prepared to pay up to today's equivalent of pounds 80 a print. Picture-framers were the most notorious distributors.

The most blatant clues linking demure 'artistic' prints to erotic prints by the same photographers are the studio props: the same patterned rug or curtain, fluted column or copper ewer appearing in both the artistic prints registered in the photographer's name in the National Library and in anonymous erotic prints.

Mr Nazarieff used these 140-year-old clues to build up tell-tale inventories of the studio props of seven eminent Paris photographers. His quest covered 3,000 images - daguerreotypes, pairs of hand-coloured stereoscopic (three-dimensional) prints, and large-scale exhibition prints.

Previously, few nude photographs of the mid-century circulating among collectors, even images filed in the National Library, had been identified as the work of named photographers. Most of those in the book are published for the first time.

Among the most cunning at covering his tracks was the distinguished Auguste Belloc (d. 1867). Like his contemporaries he had a respectable artistic background, having been a watercolourist. He gained his place in photographic history as pioneer of the wet-plate collodion process (successor to daguerreotype). He also invented a lustrous wax coating for prints, binocular stereoscopic viewing devices, a photolithographic process and a spring-back camera. He exhibited at Crystal Palace and published learned papers such as A Theoretical and Practical Treatise on Collodion-Process Photography.

Although Belloc was aware that 'artistic' nude photography had been legitimised by Durieu, whose images had been copied on to canvas by Delacroix, he took the precaution of using the false name 'Billon' when registering his stereoscopic nudes at the National Library. His deception might never have come to light had not Mr Nazarieff come across a consignment of 60 nudes known to have been sent by Belloc to a friend. They show certain props - such as pitchers and washbasins used in demure foot-washing scenes - that also crop up in kitchen scenes in which eroticism tends towards pornography. Impressed, the National Library has now changed its attribution from 'Billon' to 'Belloc'.

Louis Duboscq-Soleil (d. 1886) teamed up with the Englishman David Brewster when Brewster visited Paris in 1850 bearing the earliest stereoscopic prints, and made his own binocular stereoscopes. He developed a photometer and a refractometer. Exhibiting at the Great Exhibition of 1851, he demonstrated his stereoscope to Queen Victoria, who praised it. By 1856 he had sold 500,000 of them.

Samples of his work in the book include a hand-tinted stereoscopic daguerreotype shot at the time of Queen Victoria's accolade, showing a nude woman sprawled on her back on cushions as two black hands appear from behind a curtain. The giveaway exposing Belloc as the photographer is the patterned rug that appears both in this picture and in his shots of artistically reclining nudes in the National Library.

Belloc's sprawled-on-cushions pose, the book's cover picture, is strikingly similar to poses in today's top-shelf magazines. But a comparison of old and new genres would reveal that males in the age of the bustle had a greater predilection for buttocks than today's voyeurs.

Most open of the black-sheep photographers was Felix Moulin, who cavalierly refused to register his work at the National Library and, around 1850, published a collection of licentious daguerreotypes of non- professional female models aged 14-16. Some, shown in the book, found their way into the collection of Emperor Franz Josef of Austria. Mr Nazarieff describes Moulin as 'the first in the history of photography whose work exudes seductiveness'.

Police seized his photographs, which (during a trial held, ironically, in camera) were described as 'so obscene that even to pronounce the titles . . . would be to commit an indecency'. He was sentenced to a month in prison and a Fr100 fine.

When Moulin eventually condescended to register a series of nudes at the National Library, the photographic trade journal Le Propagateur of December 1853 published an exalted review. Of one photograph, which it called 'The Prayer', it said: 'Naked as Eve in the garden of Eden, chaste as innocence itself, a young woman in half-kneeling position lifts at once her head and arms to the heavens . . . Moulin does indeed understand the mission of art.'

Le Propagateur's only regret was that Moulin had chosen to entitle the picture 'Back Study' (Etude de dos). Fulsome trade- press reviews such as this sustained the respectability of Parisian nude photography. According to Mr Nazarieff: 'These were the X-rated films of the time.' I asked whether the more lewd productions of the big names would have been frowned upon by the influential French Society of Photography. Unlikely, he said. After all, the same photographers founded it.

Mr Nazarieff's research helped to put names to some of the prints owned by the German collector Uwe Scheid which were sold at Christie's last month. A mild, artistic Moulin stereoscopic daguerreotype of two pubescent girls with a classical vase fetched pounds 4,025. Half of an anonymous stereo card, an albumen close-up of a woman posing with legs akimbo and skirts aloft, made pounds 299.

Mr Nazarieff's book contains images dating up to 1861. But he particularly recommends study of the years between 1865 and 1870, at the end of the Second Empire of Napoleon III. 'There was some terrific pornography then,' he said.

Early Erotic Photography by Serge Nazarieff, to be published by Benedikt Taschen in December at pounds 9.99.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Up and away: rates will rise but your mortgage won't escape its moorings with a long-term fix

Is a 10 year mortgage deal a fix too far?

A cut-price deal for a decade-long home loan - where's the problem? Only, says Simon Read, that circumstances can change and it won't be easy to get out
In a surprise move the Tories have decided against putting a career politician into the job. Instead they’ve handed the responsibility to campaigner Ros Altmann

New pensions minister has massive job on her hands

The Tories have appointed campaigner Ros Altmann to the post

Promises, promises: David Cameron talks to staff at Asda's head office in Leeds today

General Election 2015: How you vote next week could affect your finances

Rival party pledges could shrink your savings or grow your nest egg
Logos for the 'Big Six'; energy companies (top row from left) British Gas, EDF, RWE npower, (bottom row from left) SSE, E.ON and ScottishPower

Winter heating underpayment brings summer pain

One reader’s monthly direct debit charge has been increased by 62 per cent

Almost 15,000 people died last winter through living in cold homes that they couldn’t afford to heat

Social tenants locked into energy tariff for 40 years

Many Londoners who live in social housing estates are not allowed to switch because their landlord has ‘locked’ them in to buying from one supplier

Will your credit card rewards be scrapped following new EU rules on charges?

Providers are unhappy with new EU rules - but ultimately it is customers who will have to foot the bill
There remain more than a million unclaimed Premium Bond prizes worth collectively around £48m

Have you won £1m in the May Premium Bonds draw?

More than £60m was paid out to more than 2 million prizewinners this month

The 0 per cent introductory deals that credit cards offer are one of the most odious tricks

Beware credit card firms’ odious tricks

Why can’t we just have open and honest charges, without all the cross-subsiding?

The pound’s recent strength against the euro could be hit by economic uncertainty under a new government

How planning can make your travel cash go further

With the pound at a high against the euro, it pays to buy now before uncertainty post-election

Put the phone down on the coldcallers who see pension liberation as an opportunity to liberate your pension from you

Pension freedoms: How to deal with cold calls from scammers

Sean O'Grady offers advice on keeping your money safe
Switching to a better bank account is much easier than it used to be

More people are switching current accounts – but what do the figures mean?

Experts disagree about the 7% increase over the past year

The chance of getting what appears to be free money can be hugely attractive, especially to first-time buyers who can be fooled into thinking it’s extra cash to buy the essential new items they need for their dream home.

Beware the boom in cashback mortgage deals

Too many mortgages are being sold with misleading gimmicks

The firm’s revenues slumped by a third to £217 million in a disastrous 2014

Wonga results could get even worse this year, chief admits

The firm’s revenues slumped by a third to £217 million in 2014

The cost of a buildings policy has dropped by 10.1 per cent over the year, with the cost of a contents policy falling by 8.2 per cent

Simon Read: Mild winter cuts the cost of home insurance

The average quote for a buildings and contents policy has fallen by 3.6 per cent

Don't count your retirement money yet: employers will stop receiving a pension rebate next year and their staff may lose out

Defined-benefit pension schemes: Rebate change in 2016 may leave you out of pocket

Employees in defined-benefit schemes are held up as the lucky ones, but the state pension scheme will be overhauled in April 2016
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Neil Pavier: Management Accountant

    £45,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you looking for your next opportunity for ...

    Sheridan Maine: Commercial Accountant

    £45,000 - £55,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ACA/ACCA/ACMA qua...

    Laura Norton: Project Accountant

    £50,000 - £60,000: Laura Norton: Are you looking for an opportunity within a w...

    Day In a Page

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?