Captains of Industry

The industrialization of the pornographic photo market is suggested by the huge volume of images seized during raids in the late 1850s and 60s. Philippe Dubourjal, a thirty-year-old wine merchant and photographer at the time of his first arrest in 1859, had 1,748 obscene prints in his possession when he was arrested for a second time in 1980. In his home in Belleville, 36 daguerreotypes, 69 paper prints, and 97 negatives were found. Joseph Auguste Belloc, who had run photography studios since 1849, had been noticed as early as 1856 for dealing in pornography. When his hand-colorist was raided in October 1861, police found two strongboxes, a desk, and a darkroom containing 1,200 obscene photographs, boxes of stereoscopic views disguised as books bearing the title Oeuvres complétes de Buffon (samples are now in the collection of the Bibliotéque nationale), 3,000 prints on paper, 307 negatives, three trays with photographs being processed, four albums of nude women, 102 large-format prints of women in “licentious positions,” and two cartes de viste sold by the popular boulevard photographer Ken.

By hiring middlemen to copy negatives to print, hand-color, and mount the images, enterprising pornographers could reap maximum profits from a limited number of sittings with the nude model while hiding their production from the police. The difficulties of reading photographic style, the division of labor, and the use of the same models by a variety of photographers made it next to impossible to identify the criminal responsible for the production of pornographic photographs unless he or she was seized flagrante delicto.

The very anonymity of photographic production, unlike the telling artist’s touch in traditional visual imagery, contributed to the success of pornographic photography.

Elizabeth Anne McCauley, Industrial Madness: Commercial Photography in Paris 1848-1871 p. 160.