Portrait of a prostitute, Paris, ca. 1930
In the early 20th century, Paris was a hotspot for prostitution. In those days, men didn’t have very exciting sex lives with their wives. Also, if you were a man in the middle class, you would get married by 35. There would always be some misbehaving uncle to show you the joys of a brothel once you hit puberty.
Alexandre Dupouy is a sex archaeologist. The French collector has spent his entire life collecting what he defines as “erotic and pornographic junk.” His shop, the Tears of Eros—now open only by appointment—has been selling pictures, paintings, and sex objects for almost half a century. It’s a sort of small museum that traces the history of sex in France.
In 1975, he received a call from a bookseller friend who said that he had an old gentleman with “something special to show him.” What he had was a luxury car with a trunk full of black-and-white photographs of naked and smiling prostitutes from the 1930s. He explained that he took most of the pictures in a brothel on the Rue Pigalle. Given that he could feel his days were numbered, the old man agreed to part with the pictures as long as he could remain anonymous. That man became known as “Monsieur X.”
On the back of the photos Monsieur X wrote the name of each girl: Mado, Suzette, Gypsi, Mimi, Nono, Pepe, etc. Monsieur X must have been close, friendly, and generous with the ladies. What is amazing is that the girls seem very relaxed in the pictures—they are actually having fun. There are even outdoor pictures taken on the banks of the Marne. He also directed two ten-minute short films, shot both outdoors and indoors. These two pieces really revealed his biggest fantasy: putting two girls together. One played a modest girl, while the other tried to be a stripper.
There are a lot of similarities to Gustave Courbet’s The Origin of the World. He also liked pretty exhibitionists. Or E. J. Bellocq—the New Orleans photographer who was also a regular customer of a local brothel, eventually making friends with the girls so that he could take any picture he wanted.
Nearly four decades later, Dupouy has decided to reprint some of this impressive collection as a book called Mauvaises filles (Bad Girls). The book is co-authored by both Dupouy and Monsieur X and published by La manufacture des livres, in 2014.
(Follow the link below to read the full interview of Alexandre Dupouy, in vice.com)
Sources / More to read:
Vice : Charming Pornographic Photographs of French Prostitutes from the 1930s
La manufacture des livres: Mauvaises filles
Amazon.co.uk: Mauvaises filles, Portraits de prostituées 1925-1935