Naked people have been around for quite some time. Ever since people evolved/ were invented, in fact. It wasn't until 1845, however, that the first nude photos were circulated at opticians, instrument makers and art dealerships (gee, how about those times when you could go pick up a pair of glasses and some porn from the optician? The good old days...).

The original porn photos were predominantly made by and for men, and the images varied from sedate back/butt view photos to hetero and lesbian sex. To 'please' the menfolk of the day, the producers commissioned a lot of pictures of fellatio and hetero sexual acts. Unlike modern porn, the depiction of lesbian acts were more rare than male homosexual acts, in spite of the fact that the latter was a crime in those days.

In the 1870s postcard porn was invented, and from 1890 to 1930 it was hugely popular. The cards were the result of developments in the mass production of photography, and showed more 'lewd' images. Previously, it was common to take the original photo, then take a photo of that one, and so on, to get multiple copies. This is why many early porn images have pin holes in the corners, as the photo was taken of another stuck on a wall.

In France, from 1919 to 1939, over 20,000,000 'nudie' postcards were sold. Again, hetero, lesbian and fellatio images were the most common and expected. However, these cards sometimes depicted women committing acts of bestiality with dogs. Of course today these photos are illegal, but apparently in France in 1919 dogs were considered sexual objects (oh yeah, Fido...).

From the get-go, governments were against the "obscene" work of early pornographers. In 1802 Britain had a specific task force to fight porn, and after 1850 much porn was suppressed and destroyed by authorities. The US, also eager to catch the nude photos and 'art' which circulated via the mail service, began a campaign against such porn (so much for privacy and mail laws).

In spite of the attempts of the conservatives, the black market pornographers made a killing. A mass market from across the globe (Cuba, France, England, the US and Japan) bought the racy pictures and, presumably, got hours of pleasure from them. The Victorian era hid a sexy eroticism, which in turn hid the really 'hardcore' porn of the day, best summed up by Michael Koetzle in '1000 Nudes', 1994: "Artistic nudes make no promises, erotic nudes make a few, and obscene or pornographic works so completely fulfill them all that many viewers find them offensive rather than exciting". That is to say, to each his (or her) own when it comes (no pun intended) to porn.

So who exactly was posing for these racy shots, if they were so damn illegal and secret? Well, that's a secret lost to the ages. It's assumed most were prostitutes who saw porn as their 'big break' out of their hard-luck lives. Other models are said to be mental patients who were unaware of what they were doing and the implications of their actions. The names of the photographers are also a mystery, as they were predominantly amateur artists, relative unknowns in the art world.

We've come a long way from black and white and sepia copies of copies of copies of porn photos. Just look at the highly erotic (?!) ASCII porn E2 has collected...

Information from Forbidden Erotica, The Rotenberg Collection, Taschen, 2000

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