Victorian London - Crime - Pornography and Indecency - pornographic photography

Friday, 7 December. Going into a shop to buy some photographs the shop-man, who was also photographer, brought out by way of temptation various portraits of nude & semi-nude women, which he himself had taken. I enquired what manner of women they were, who were willing to have pictures of their naked bodies taken, and sold to strangers at 2/- each: of course they are virtually prostitutes? 'Not at all, Sir!' cries the worthy photographer, indignant: 'this one' (holding up a stark naked figure) 'is herself an artist, and was a governess. No, No-they wouldn't do anything of that: a girl has no need to go on the streets when she can earn five or six pounds a week, by this sort of thing & sitting to the Academy!' Nearly 300 a year to be earned by simply sitting in a chair without any clothes on: no wonder such a trade is preferred to the hard and self-accusing life of a prostitute! Nevertheless, one would say on the whole that these delicate gradations of female modesty are somewhat inexplicable to the coarser masculine mind...

Arthur Munby, Diary, 7 December 1860

I crossed Westminster Bridge by the temporary wooden footway; at the Surrey end of which I found a group of dustwomen, resting on their way home . . . It occurred to me that this was a good chance of obtaining a photograph of a woman of that class in working dress. Knowing however  that such creatures would be simply astonished if I made such a request in person, I asked a photographer's doorsman nearby, if he could persuade one of the women, whom I pointed out, to come and be taken. He went off to do so, and returned to the door with her: but seeing me, she quickly ran away again. 'She's a stoopid!' cried the doorsman; and rushing off once more, he brought her back; and grinning and wondering she tramped upstairs like a ploughman. I followed; and in a little room that served as showroom and parlour, I found the photographers, two respectable young men, and two girls, their sisters apparently, who were seated at needlework . . .  A second picture was taken of her by the photographer for his own satisfaction; and then 'Now I think we may dismiss her' I said. She understood me, and quickly exclaimed 'Ain't you a goin to give me nothin Sir?' and then, having received a shilling, she huddled up her things, tramped downstairs in her rude manlike way, & exit.
    I came away when the picture was ready; leaving behind me, as I thought, no other impression than that of wonder at my bad taste, in desiring to possess the portrait of a clumsy dustwoman rather than of (say) an elegant young milliner in costume of the period. But, as I gave the doorsman a fee for his trouble, he remarked that he had 'another young woman' close at hand - 'a beautiful specimen.' I asked what he meant; and by way of reply, he plunged into a public-house next door, and produced in a twinkling the damsel in question, who had evidently been in waiting: a tall pale-faced girl in mourning of fashionable make though somewhat shabby. He set her before me in the passage, adding by way of introduction 'She's an envelope maker Sir - there's lots of 'em hereabouts'. The girl looked quiet and modest; & what I was expected to do with her I could not conceive. I passed on therefore, simply telling her that she was not the sort of hardworking person whose portrait I wanted. The doorsman however came forward & whispered that he had brought her 'to have a picture of her taken with her clothes up'. Here was a revelation, indeed! The fellow, finding quickly enough that he had made a mistake, took to vehement apologies - 'he was an old soldier' (he wore a medal) 'and no doubt I was an officer - and he thought &c. and he meant no harm.' I walked off in disgust; but the scene was not yet over. A shabby-genteel young man who had been lingering about now came up to me bowing. 'Beg pardon Sir - but was you in want of any ballet girls or poses plastiques?' I stared and answered No: but.. . added 'What have you to do with such matters?' 'Sir,' replied the seedy one 'I am a theatrical agent: I can supply you Sir with girls, for ballet or poses or artists' models, at an hour's notice, if you honour me with an order.' And he offered me a dirty envelope containing his address.
    I thanked him coldly, and so got away at last; wondering why on earth a dust-woman's portrait should have produced these offensive results. There had been no appearance of evil in the matter; the photographer had seemed respectable; and I can only conjecture that Astley's theatre, and the crowds of mean work-girls who live thereabouts, may have been local causes for the annoyance ...

Arthur Munby, Diary, 22 March 1862

At Clerkenwell, George Reid, described as a purveyor, living at Harrow-road, who had been apprehended on a warrant, was charged on remand with having, on the premises, 24, Upper-street, Islington, carried on an exhibition of pictures of a depraved and indecent charavter, contrary to public morals. Mr. C.F.Gill appeared for the prosecution on behalf of a society called the National Vigilance Society; and Mr. Westcott, solicitor, appeared for the defence. Evidence had been given by detectives of the N Division that in consequence of complaints they visited the premises in question, the shop of which was used as a cheap show, admission being one penny. The exhibition was a sort of peep-show, photographs being shown through lenses, which enlarged them. The magistrate, having inspected some photographs produced as samples of those at the show in question, said that, under all the circumstances, he felt bound to decide that the exhibition was of an indecent character, and fined the prisoner 20, or two month's imprisonment in default.

Times, 29 August 1892