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Oriental (Erotic) Postcards and Photography

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Oriental (erotic) Postcards ~ photographers
Oriental (erotic) Postcards ~ publishers

Already in the early history of erotic photography, exotic (and erotic) photographs from foreign countries have been very popular. This even more years later with the "colonial" postcards, which were sent postally in large numbers, mainly from the colonies of European countries. The most favorite regions were African and Oriental countries, especially the Maghreb countries Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt, but also Central African countries like Sudan. Models in their Oriental dresses with ornate jewelry (i.e. the Ouled Naïls) gave these cards a special exotic flair, especially in the beginning of the 20th century with its growing interest in orientalism. Although the Oriental Postcards have acquired a quite negative reputation in the 20th century ("colonial voyeurism"; unveiling women as a symbol of European colonial domination), a several books about Oriental postcards showing the beauty of photos taken by photographers like Rudolf Lehnert or Jean Geiser have been published in the last decades.

In a strictly sense not typically belonging to the Belle Epoque Postcards or the French Postcards, we nevertheless think that these cards deserve to be included on this website due to their thematical similarity as vintage (and erotic) portrait postcards and their special exotic charm. We admire the beauty of the models and the esthetic work of the photographers, apart from the socio-political discussion about the context of French colonialism and imperialism in the North African states, especially Algeria. But of course we also acknowledge the controversy that these postcards with unveiled and partly nude models had evoked (and still does in our time) in an Islamic culture.

We put our focus mainly on the "Oriental" type of these so called ethnic postcards, shown especially by the photos of Jean Geiser and Lehnert & Landrock. Their work has a more artistic photographic style in comparison to the more "documentary style" of photographers of other indigenous ethnicities. Thus, they are more related to the Belle Epoque and French Postcards, which emphasize the beauty of their models in a more charming way.

There was a great number of oriental photographers in the late 19th and early 20th century. The books of A. Fleig and especially K. Jacobson give a comprehensive overview. Just to mention a few very important photographers: Abdullah Frères (Constantinople), Pascal Sebah / Sebah & Joaillier (Constantinople, Egypt), the well known Rudolf Franz Lehnert and his partner Ernst Heinrich Landrock (Tunisia, Egypt), Paul-Felix Bonfils (Beirut), Hippolyte Arnoux (Egypt), Marcelin Flandrin (Marocco), Émile Frechon (Algeria), Jean Geiser (Algeria), Alexandre Leroux (Algeria), Felix-Jacques Moulin (Paris) and Roger Fenton (London). Among the most successful photographers and publishers of postcards, next to Lehnert & Landrock and Jean Geiser, were the French photographer and publisher Lucien Levy / Levy & Fils Cie. and the Frères Neurdein.

The models on the postcards in some series like "Scènes et Types" were categorized, i.e. "Type de Mauresque", "Type de Marocaine","Bedouine", "Femme Kabyle", "Femme du sud", "Femme arabe", "La danse", "La sieste", or sometimes having specific names like "Fathma","Aisha" or "La Belle Zinâ". The authenticity and reliability of these captions and fictitious names is obviously questionable, because some photographers showed the same model on different postcards with different captions. Some authors say that this - in our current view quite ridiculous categorization - may have insidiously supported the colonial repression in the North African countries ("colonial voyeurism"). In many (if not all) cases the photographers worked together with courtesans, modeling for the photos. So, obviously these cards have no real documentary value, they are actually documenting more the imaginary and transfigured European view of Oriental countries and cultures in that time of the Belle Epoque.

One of the reasons why these Oriental erotic postcards were more publicly known than the European erotic postcards was, that nude, or partly nude photographs from these "exotic" countries had a (obviously questionable) reputation of an ostensible "scientific" ethnic nature. It was even possible to mail these postcards with erotic/nude motifs without getting into legal troubles and they didn't get censored by mail offices.

The quality of these ethnic postards is mostly different to the Belle Epoque cards and the French Postcards, because usually a lower quality of paper and printing technique was used (no photo-postcard). High quality prints, like postcards or prints of photos by Lehnert & Landrock are more difficult to find and very expensive. Nevertheless these cards got quite popular among vintage postcard collectors.

We are aware, that these photographers often took photos of (very) young models, and in case of nudity we try to select only postcards showing models who seem to be at least 18 years old, as far it is possible to distinguish.

We still have to learn a lot about the historical background, photographers and postcard publishers of Oriental postcards, and the fact, that almost all of the quite abundant literature is only available in French language makes it more difficult for us. In the beginning with adding the first Oriental postcard to our "French Postcard" section, we didn't expect at all, how extensive our studies about this very interesting topic would have to grow, concerning especially the historical and ethical background of colonialism and photography of unveiled women in islamic countries.

 

References:

 

 

recommended websites:

 

Ken Jacobson - Orientalist Photography

Ken Jacobson
Odalisques and Arabesques
Orientalist Photography 1839-1925

 

Alai Fleig - Rêves de papier

Alain Fleig
Rêves de papier
La Photographie Orientaliste 1860-1914

 

Nicole Canet - Le Voyage Amoureux

Nicole Canet
Le voyage amoureux
Beautés orientales - Ouled Naïls - Courtisanes

 

Michel Mégnin - La photo-carte en Algérie

Michel Mégnin
La photo-carte en Algérie au XIXe Siècle

 

Christelle Taraud
Mauresques
Femmes orientales dans la photographie coloniale 1860-1910

 

Éric Milet - Orientalist Photographs 1870-1950

Éric Milet
Orientalist Photographs 1870-1950

 

Nicole Canet - Beautés exotiques

Nicole Canet
Beautés Exotiques
Galerie Au Bonheur du Jour

 

Nicole Canet - Chatelain retrouvé

Chatelain Retrouvé
Photographe à Tunis 1903-1914

 

 

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