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
As rising house prices push up demand for renting, so tenants are having to dig deeper than ever

Starter home initiative is urgently needed as rents go through the roof

Rents in England and Wales rose by 1.9 per cent in July to an average of £804

Peer-to-peer lending rates put Nisas to shame

The returns from P2P providers look more attractive than ever

Questions of Cash: Log-in problems turned eDreams booking into one-way ticket to nowhere

The company failed to provide our reader's flight ticket - or a refund

Hot property: business has been booming in estate agents this month, even though it’s the height of the summer holiday season

Heat rises for mortgage deals as UK homeowners sense a rate hike coming

The housing market should go quiet in August but instead people have been acting like cheap loans won't last. Do we really have to rush, asks Simon Read
Phones have now overtaken personal computers as the most used way of accessing the internet

Who you gonna call? The Complaints Busters

Unhappy customers have been given their own Ombudsman to help fight for them.

Undergraduates are being tempted with freebies by banks

Students should give freebies a wide berth and focus instead on cheap borrowing

An interest-free loan far outweighs the value of any of the bank's incentives

The Spanish carrier changed a reader's flight from Madrid – to a time before she was due to land

Questions of Cash: 'A connecting Vueling flight was cancelled and all my travel costs were left hanging in the air'

Our reader encountered problems when flying from London to Ibiza in May to take part in a charity ride

Complacency about rising rates could prove to be costly

Interest rates stay at 0.5% for now - but don't wait to get a better deal on your savings and mortgage

The years of ultra-low rates are coming to an end

The elderly are being targeted by fraudsters with postal scams such as fake prize draws

Fraudsters are bombarding older people with dangerous pension scams: here we reveal the warning signs

Many people are being repeatedly targeted by crooked schemes

Football and credit cards aren't always a good match

A football club-branded credit card could end up being a financial own goal

It may be a great talking point when you get your football club plastic out in front of your mates, but these deals aren't the best option for all fans

Switching current accounts: Five things you need to know about getting the best deal

Banks are boosting their profits by millions of pounds through consumer confusion

A reader's baggage was damaged at Madrid-Barajas airport, and a refund is still awaited

Questions of Cash: Iberia damaged my suitcase, told me to buy a new one - and then lost the cheque in the post

The customer purchased a replacement for €89 but has not received the refund over three months later

Swim against the tide: a country in the midst of a financial crisis, like Greece, may offer investment opportunities

History tells investors to keep their nerve when headlines scream 'crisis'

Swim against the tide: a country in the midst of a financial crisis, like Greece, may offer investment opportunities

Writing a will: How to ensure that your legacy is honoured

Last week appeal judges said a mother had been wrong to leave her daughter nothing. Simon Read asks what the rest of us have to do to avoid the same fate
Comparing current accounts to find the best value is now almost impossible

High street banks 'making millions' by confusing customers out of switching current accounts

Millions lose out because they don't understand the charges and fees on bank accounts

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

    £13000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be part of a ...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: Are you passionate about sale...

    Ashdown Group: Graduate Developer (Trainee) - City, London

    £25000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A large financial services company...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Assistant - Financial Services Sector - London

    £20400 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and highly reputable organisat...

    Day In a Page

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future