NOTE: The following is an article I wrote which was just published at Sugarcut Magazine. Sugarcut is THE premier erotic art and photography site, and I thought some of the camera and visual arts folks who follow Dull Tool Dim Bulb might enjoy seeing it without clicking onto a NSFW site! If you DO want to see the original article on Sugarcut, you can find it, and it has 25 illustrations in a slide show.
Proto-Porn from the 1950S
Shown is a wide-angle lens full of vintage camera club pinup digests from the early 1950s. Long ignored progenitors of pinup pulchitrude! It was illegal to sell nude photographs in the Eisenhower days, but some enterprising and greedy shutterbug gahoots found a way around the law, frequently in cahoots with the guys downtown, if you know what I mean.
“Figure Study” publications for the artist and photographer!
These obscure digests were all purportedly aimed at the burgeoning nude photography hobbyist, or at least they claimed to be. They were available under the counter or through the mail, at least until Uncle Sam got wise. The models, some famous (Blaze Starr, Judy O’Neal, Bettie Page and many more) were pulled from burlesque routes and strip clubs…others were amateurs who replied to ads. There are no less than five devoted to Ms. Page alone from various publishers. All are hard to find today. Each is now over 50 years old… and since they were published in small editions by phony companies, then carried by trunk and hand to the shop, few survive today. Many have no return address or date. Shop owners priced them at what they thought the risk was worth.
The models in these “proto-porn” periodicals never had pudenda or pubes. The photographs were black and white, and each digest-sized booklet ran from 20 to 50 pages. The colorful covers belie the blurry pages inside. The men behind the camera were seldom identified, but with care and a loupe, one can often identify the photographer’s swinging pads from the wall decorations and curtain designs.
Who was responsible for these stroke books masquerading as figure studies for photographers? At least one series was produced by a later prominent publisher of fetish pinup periodicals. Others came from a husband and wife team living in Midtown Manhattan a few doors down from Bettie Page, and a big load from a mysterious photographer with a Florida address…a sunny address he began using after apparently thinking the city up north was “too hot” and left Brooklyn behind. Nearly all were published in series, but a complete set is unheard of.
The books are today relics of days gone by. Despite history books which credit Hugh Hefner with starting the modern revolution in nude photography, not to mention sexual mores, it was a dozen independent small presses with moxie (and buxie) with a few mob-connections who got the balls rolling.
Jim Linderman is an author, collector and editor of the daily blog VINTAGE SLEAZE. This group of original “Figure Study” digests come from the author’s collection and date circa 1950 – 1955. Vintage Sleaze the daily blog is HERE.
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