Vintage Nude Photos On Display In Berlin’s Photography Museum

The Museum of Photography in Berlin has just opened an exhibition of nude photos from the turn of the last century.

“The Naked Truth and More Besides Nude Photography around 1900” brings together hundreds of nude photos from an era we normally associate with old-fashioned prudery. In fact, nude photos were incredibly popular at that time. They had existed since the earliest days of the medium, and by the 1880s it was getting much cheaper to reproduce photographs. This led to a boom in the distribution of all photos, nudes included.

Soon nudity could be seen in magazines, advertising, postcards, collectible cards found in cigarette packs and large-format posters. The exhibition looks at a range of different styles and purposes of nudes, ranging from artistic studies to the blatantly pornographic. Rural images and scenes from Classical myths were also popular, as were photos of the nudist movement, which was seeing its first wave of popularity at this time.

%Gallery-187444%The explosion in nudes led to society questioning their traditional assumptions. The marks that corsets left on the flesh made some question whether they should be worn. Homoerotica became more widespread and the first homoerotic magazine, Der Eigene, started in 1896 and published many male nudes.

People who wanted to buy or sell nude photos had to skirt the law. By dubbing the images “for artistic purposes only,” they could claim their interest wasn’t prurient, a bit like how head shops nowadays label bongs “for tobacco use only.” The police did make frequent busts, and one of the largest collections of nude photos from this era is housed at the Police Museum of Lower Saxony, which supplied many of the more risqué photos for this exhibition.

Then as now, there was a continuous debate over what was or was not obscene. Simple nudes were generally considered acceptable, especially if they were artistic studies or images of “primitive” peoples. Surprisingly, images of nude children were also more acceptable than today since they were considered images of innocence. While some child nudes are on display at the museum, none appear in this article.

“The Naked Truth and More Besides Nude Photography around 1900” runs until August 25.

[Photo copyright Heinrich Kühn, copyright Estate of the Artist / Galerie Kicken Berlin]

Images of Paris in La Belle Époque

Paris has always captured the imagination with its architectural beauty and interesting inhabitants. La Belle Époque from the late 19th century to the start of World War One is considered a high point of Parisian life, and this life was captured by an eccentric photographer named Eugène Atget.

Atget started taking photographs of Paris in the 1890s. Working in the early hours of the morning with large-format negatives in order to catch as much detail as possible, he photographed many fine old buildings that have since disappeared. He photographed people too, preferring street vendors, shopkeepers, prostitutes, and the homeless. Instead of the rich and famous, he focused on people you’d commonly see on the street in those days, like this little girl singing along to an organ grinder, courtesy the Gilman Paper Company Collection.

Atget continued to work after the war until his death in 1927, documenting a Paris that even then was beginning to disappear. He was a bit of an anachronism, using the same equipment and same techniques he had thirty years before. A photo of him from the 1920s shows him as a shabby, hunched old man. He must have been an object of fun among the Bohemian set, for his looks, mannerisms (in old age he only ate bread, milk, and sugar) and outdated photographic style. The art world never really appreciated him until after his death, but now he’s renowned as one of the most important artists of the era.

Atget’s work is now the subject of a free exhibition at Madrid’s Fundación Mapfre, one of the best private galleries in the city. Eugène Atget, Paris 1898-1924 runs until August 27.