From the moment of the invention of photography, the nude body has been positioned in front of the camera lens. The erotic connotations given to the human figure made it one of artists’ favorite objects of visual composition.However, the complexity of the first photographic technology called Daguerrotype , in honor to its inventor, the French painter physicist Louis-Jacques Daguerre (1787-1851), made its production very hard (Dupouy, 2015, p. 19) although not impossible. Many photographers specialized in erotic daguerrotypes. Félix Jacques Moulin (1802-1875), Auguste Belloc (1800-1867), Eugéne Durieu (1800-1874) are some of the most famous ones. They and many others took the female body as the perfect erotic object (picture 42) (Pultz, 1995, p. 38).Photographs of nude women in provocative poses were promoted, commissioned, and sold to an audience increasingly eager to look, either with lust or with artistic and academic intentions (Celdrán, 2013). Female body was resource used for advertising agencies too, especially for the promotion of cigarettes. Photographs and lithography of women were used as advertising devices, utilized as an incentive to capture the interest of the clients(McDonough, & Egolf, 2002, p. A). In the article “Advertising in the Early Cigarette Industry: W. Duke, Sons & Company of Durham”, Patrick G. Porter mentions one of the most successful publicity incentives ever created. Around 1887, W. Duke, Sons , dedicated to the production of cigarettes, produced a set of collector cards with photos of women placed in the cigarette packs (picture 43)(Porter, 1971, p. 35).The sensuality of the models makes obvious the sexual connotations of the photos. With this strategy W. Duke & Sons was crowned as the leader in the tobacco industry.
At the end of the nineteenth century, the creation of more accessible cameras with easier photographic processes, allowed the multiple printing of images. Photographers very quickly went from taking erotic to pornographic photographs, involving couples (heterosexual, and homosexual) in explicit sexual positions.
This new technology made the mass production of erotic/pornographic photographs possible, which turned out being a very lucrative market with great demand (Dupouy, 2015, p. 16).
In the same time period, in 1895 the cinematograph was invented by the French brothers Louis and Auguste Lumière.
Same as photographers, filmmakers used the body and its sexuality as the central concept to unleash their imagination and creativity.
One year after the cinematograph’s invention, the first kiss of history was filmed. In 1896 the short film “The Kiss”, by American film cinematographer William Heise, it is displayed the intimate instant when a woman and a man share a kiss on the lips (López, 2015). Even though the act was a recreated scene from a Broadway play from 1895, performed by the same actors, it caused controversy in a society that “embraced modesty”.
Nevertheless, the public demanded to see more, so it happened that it was the same year when the first erotic movies of history were produced.
In 1896 French producer Albert Kirchner (1860-1901) displayed “Le Coucher de la Mariee” (picture 44) (Marshall Cavendish Coorporation, 2010, p. 559). The film shows a woman performing a striptease for a man. She, feeling shy, asks the man to wait behind a screen until she finishes undressing.What is interesting about this film, is that while the man waits impatient for her, the woman seduces the audience by looking directly to the camera while taking off the layers of clothes, like inviting them to be part of the activity.
One year afterwards, in 1897, the film “Après le bal” by French filmmaker Georges Méliès is displayed, and in this occasion both protagonists are women. The movie shows a routinely intimate activity: a woman taking a bath after being helped by a domestic servant to undress. The interaction between the two women happens in such a way that their actions hide the most intimate parts of the body, creating a feeling of anticipation in the viewer.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, erotic films were played clandestinely in events at private clubs for small groups of exclusively men, while public cinema avoided any reference of eroticism. In the meantime, erotic photos (either implicit or explicit) were present in everyday life: posters, stamps, stickers, magazines, advertising, instructional material, and postcards, collector’s postcards, which had the highest demand.
By 1907, more than 300 million erotic/semi-erotic postcards per year were being produced just in France (Picture 45), and exported to countries like Germany, the United States, and Great Britain. (Terret, 2002, p. 273).
In the 1920s the invention of the printing press made it easy the mass production of newspapers, magazines, books, etc., The exhibition “The Naked Truth and More Besides” presented in 2013 in Berlin, displays and elucidates the infinite usage given to the body in the early twentieth century:
“Were corsets desirable? Photographs of corset marks on naked female bodies argue against them. What good was exercise? Photographs of trained naked bodies documented the benefits. What did a normal person look like, and what did the ideal body look like? With nude photography printed in numerous magazines and books, people began to develop an eye for these matters”. (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, 2013)The ideals of beauty and perfection spread through this imagery influenced and shaped the body culture of that period (picture 45). The ideals of beauty and perfection spread through this imagery influenced and shaped the body culture of that period (picture 45). With more and more images becoming available, the body could be compared and evaluated, therefore, people became more aware of their own and other people’s bodies Advertising Agencies focused the commercials on the physique of the body more than on the product itself, very often sexualizing it (implicit or explicit) to capture the attention of patrons. Very common was the usage of the “most erotic” aspects of the female body exclusively, like the lips or legs, and showed them in a sensual context that usually had nothing to do with the product being promoted (Picture 46).The body has been victim of objectification for decades, not only for the imagery presented but for the slogans created to support these images. Phrases like “Most men ask, Is she pretty? Not, is she clever?”, or “A skin you love to touch” (picture 47) from an advertisement for Woodbury’s Facial Soap in 1911, encouraged this misconception that the female body is no more but this perfect object whose only purpose is seduction.From the moment
photography, advertisement, and cinematography were invented, they have
explored and challenged all existing limits of eroticism and sex.
These platforms not
only have documented the attitude of the society towards the body, but also
played a very important role in the shape of the ideals of beauty, perfect
body, gender roles, and stereotypes.