Vintage erotic photography 1845-1920

Anonymous c.1845

Photography began in 1826. The first nude (a male self-portrait) around 1840. The earliest 'erotic' photo I can find around 1845. I should point out that a nude photo is not necessarily erotic, pornography never. But what quality is it that makes an image erotic? Today we are bombarded by visual cliches, and it is hard to find anything in the commercial or creative world that is in any way original. In the world of fashion photography Helmut Newton set the bar so high in the 1970's that no-one since has seriously challenged his achievement. And today's cult of celebrity with body modification and photo manipulation tools result in beauty and desirability looking distinctly alien.

At first glance we might admire the apparent naivety of the early attempts at erotica in photography. Keep in mind that the first photographs required long exposures, certainly taxing for the models. Many of the photos in this post were taken in Paris, and while we might admire French liberalism the reality was the models were often girls who had fallen on hard times. Modelling may have been a slightly more attractive proposition than prostitution or virtual slavery. The photos themselves are a strange mixture of attempts at 'art', sexual humour, enticement or just 'naughty'. What effect they had on their audience is unknown, but we do know that a number of photographers specialised in the field and made a living from their sales. They also reflect the development of technology and techniques in photography.

I have selected a number of favourites from the vast repository that is available through the very wonderful Wikimedia Commons website, and posted them here under the GNU Free Documentation License and Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license public domain 'copyleft' principles. 

Enter the gallery here...

Anonymous c.1920

When did you last have an orgasm?

Various locations, Bega, New South Wales, Australia, 22 August 2012...


UbuWeb is one of those sites that represents all that is good about the Internet, and is an absolute must for anyone purporting to have an interest in contemporary creativity. Where else could you listen to Marcel Duchamp giving a talk on the creative process in 1957, or hear Hans Arp reading his own poetry, or watch Pina Bausch dance, or listen to Brain Eno's recordings in the mid-70s, or watch Paul McCarthy's video experiments? Below, the FAQ's from UbuWeb explain what it is about...

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What Patrick Hutchings taught me about art...

Many years ago I started studying for a long distance degree in visual arts through Deakin University. I started off with a bang, getting a higher distinction for my first assignment on the emergence of realism in Renaissance art, then stumbled while trying to find a symbolism that wasn't there in 17C Dutch still life, and finally crashed into boredom with British landscape painting before deciding that the academic path was not for me.

Part of the deal was to attend a study tour at the National Gallery of Victoria where we got to meet our tutor, whose name I am embarrassed to say I have forgotten. I do remember that she had shapely legs, wore seamed stockings and high heels, and to follow her around the hallowed halls of this great gallery discussing the collection was indeed a pleasure.

Patrick Hutchings, teacher, author, critic, and one of the grand old men of Australian art, had recently retired from Deakin, but he did condescend to grace us with his presence on one of these tours. His knowledge of, and insight into art was profoundly illuminating. He was also a very entertaining lecturer whose passion for his subject often increased as the audience grew. On one occasion he began a dialogue in front of Picasso's Weeping Woman. Our group of six rapidly grew to about thirty members of the public as he shared his knowledge, finishing with spontaneous applause from an enlightened crowd.

We were wandering through the modern European collection when we passed the only Cezanne. He said, "Of course, this is not a very good Cezanne". Now I have never been a big fan of Cezanne, so I somewhat cynically asked, "How do you tell a good Cezanne from a bad Cezanne?". He turned to me smiling, and said, "Bob, by looking at lots of Cezannes".

Surrealism - Part Two

The Grand Master - Luis Bunuel

After my revelatory discussions with Dusan Marek, who had taught me that Surrealism was more a way of life than an art movement, and my meeting with Denys Finney, who had opened the possibility of me becoming an artist, I started to study my new interest with passion. Influential books were:

  • Dada: art and anti-art by Hans Richter
  • The History of Surrealist Painting by Marcel Jean
  • Diary of a Genius by Salvador Dali
  • Surrealism by Herbert Read
  • Selected Poems and Nadja by Andre Breton
  • Surrealists on Art ed. by Lucy Lippard
  • The Road to the Absolute by Anna Balakian
  • Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp by Pierre Cabanne

But the person who (for me) galvanised the essence of surrealism was Luis Bunuel, in my opinion the most compleat surrealist of all. The first Bunuel film I saw was Viridiana. The effect of this I can only liken to a Buddhist achieving enlightenment. And the story of it's making, and subsequent release, is as surreal as the film itself.

Fernando Rey and Sylvia Pinal in Viridiana 1961

The story is purely de Sadeian in concept, and could have (like de Sade's Justine) been subtitled The folly of virtue. But where the Divine Marquis attempts to shock with his pornography, Bunuel shocks with subversive ideas, and it is this that makes the film so dangerous. Bunuel said, 'What I am aiming to do in my films is to disturb people and destroy the rules of a kind of conformism that wants everyone to think that they are living in the best of all possible worlds'. In Viridiana he takes a swipe at just about everything, from religion to society, moral standards, obsession, class divisions, innocence and trust. In Viridiana there are no winners...everyone loses eventually. I watch Bunuel not to be entertained, but to learn...

Bunuel had returned to Spain from a 25 year self-imposed exile in Mexico to make this film. The script had been submitted to the Government censors who took umbrage with the closing scene, and Bunuel modified it accordingly. Why they allowed the rest of the script is still a mystery. Bunuel shot the film in his usual economic, to the point, often just one take style. The negatives were smuggled into France and the film premiered at the 1961 Cannes Film Festival as Spain's official entry where it was awarded the Palme d'Or and received a 7 minute standing ovation. It was promptly banned by the Franco government in Spain and blacklisted by the Vatican as 'sacreligious and blasphematory'. I suspect that Bunuel was as honored by this response as he was in receiving the Golden Palm. The master had struck again...

Love Glove

Bob Georgeson, Love Glove, 2010, Photomontage

The Love Glove story is one of those little mysteries in ones art career...despite all intentions the point is lost. I had originally done this as a homage to Hannah Hoch, founding member of the Berlin Dada protest, the undisputed queen of photomontage, and in my opinion one of the most under-rated artists of the 20th Century. At the time I had been working on the Brides of Christ series, and as a result it sat in my folder somewhat unrelated to that theme.

Around the same time a local art group was planning an exhibition called 'Beyond the Edge - Towards Postmodernism'. Well, these cliches were enough to ruffle my feathers, so I quickly joined the group and submitted this work as a protest to all the wanky jargon that to my mind was destroying contemporary art. I thought that what is essentially an image of a masturbating man might create a stir among the plethora of artists whose subject matter often revolved around gum trees and coastal rock textures, and seriously expected to be rejected. An artists statement was also required so I culled phrases from the first International Dada Fair held in Berlin in 1920. Phrases like: 'Dada is the deliberate subversion of bourgeois values.'

The exhibition had also been organised as a competition within the group. $1000 to the artist who best addressed the theme of the show, to be judged by a gallery owner from outside the immediate area. Guess who won? I shook my head as I accepted the that's postmodernism for you! I give up...

Worlds in Collision

Worlds in Collision is a project I have been working on this year. I have been photographing and videoing images and segments from foreign language (well, at least foreign to me) TV news services from Serbia, Croatia and Macedonia. I have a fascination with this part of the world that seems to have had more than its fair share of troubles, whether it be from invaders like the Mongols or Crusaders, or internal conflicts between neighbouring peoples. 

This is the first of my video experiments that I am reasonably happy with. I had originally conceived a more menacing soundtrack, but I never tire of listening to Herbie, and it just happened to fit the length of the timeline...


Part 3 of Bega deconstructed...Auckland Street...July 2012...

Bob Georgeson, Alleyway, 2012, Digital photograph

Winter swells

At Camel Rock...