A Retro Halloween Glamour Pastiche And The Lost World Of Online Smut

The mysteries and frustrations of the here today, gone tomorrow world of online erotica.

If you are a fan of vintage erotica, then you’ll be familiar with the work of that prolific photographer ‘Anonymous’, who is credited to work from the 19th century through to the 1950s (and sometimes beyond). The obvious clandestine nature of erotica before the 1960s – where even simple nudes were at risk of prosecution for obscenity, and anything stronger was so underground that most people would never even know that it existed – meant that few people were going to take credit for their work. Of course, a lot of this stuff ended up in the hands of private collectors, and against all odds, survived long enough to be rediscovered decades later, where both the raunchy nature of the images and the quaint charm of these vintage photos and films – with their rather awkward amateurs and curious innocence – stood in contrast to mass-produced modern porn.

Invariably, the secret photographers and filmmakers – and, for that matter, the performers – remain unknown. Their work has survived, but their names are lost to history. It’s a frustrating gap in the history of erotica – we have the work, but know nothing about the people who made it.

Still, those days are over – we now have full providence for any glamour photography or porn film, right? Even if they are working under pseudonyms, there is at least a history that can be traced through someone’s work. And thanks to a collection of adult industry researchers, many of those mysterious figures of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s have been identified and their careers and lives tracked.

But while the world of adult film, video and magazine publishing is being catalogued, archived and given historical context and… well, an actual history, the same can’t be said about its online offspring. Sure, we can say that once something is on the internet, it’s there forever – and maybe that’s true about photos that can be grabbed, reposted and archived. But the truth is that websites are depressingly ephemeral, even with things like Wayback Machine acting as a digital memory bank. Blogs might now last as long as WordPress, Blogger and others offer free space and stay in business, but other sites have lasted only as long as the person running them has stayed interested enough to keep paying for the webspace. I say this from experience – the only evidence that my old websites ever existed are the HTML files that I still have on hard drives.

And so erotic sites have come and gone, lost in time and almost immediately forgotten by people who have a seemingly endless amount of choice when it comes to adult content. Their images survive as ghosts of dead websites, the origins of these photographs often being lost in time. Like the work of the 1920s, these images are frequently irritatingly anonymous – both models and photographer often never credited to begin with, and even if they were, the sites on which they originally appeared are now long forgotten. So work from fifteen years ago now seems as mysterious as century-old nudie photos.

When researching our recent gallery of vintage Halloween cheesecake glamour, a handful of images – all clearly from the same shoot – kept popping up. Although invariably described as vintage images, and featured alongside shots from the Thirties and Forties, there was something a little off about these super-cute shots. While they certainly looked like photos of the era, there was also something ‘modern’ about them, and I suspected that these were pastiches of vintage images. But with nothing – beyond the ‘MG’ studio symbol in the corner, itself a clear imitation of vintage postcard logos that are often the only form of identification on glamour shots – to suggest where the photos came from, it was hard to be quite sure just where they came from.

Luckily, I wasn’t the first to question the vintage authenticity of these images. My research finally took me to Eros Blog, where blogger ‘Bacchus’ had followed up his own doubts about the images, and discovered that one of the images had appeared on DeviantArt in 2005, posted by a photographer from the Ukraine. 2005 was the last time he or she had posted anything. The photographer posted the site Martha’s Girls as their URL. This was a retro-themed softcore subscription site that I remembered from the early 2000s, but which has been offline since 2016.

So we know something about these images. But ironically, not much more than we know about actual vintage erotica – we know the approximate era and location for the images, but everyone involved remains elusively anonymous. The Eros Blog investigation was in 2017, and no one seems to have added more information since.

This immediate anonymity and obscurity is frustrating to those of us who see adult entertainment – in whatever form – as a legitimate art form, and one worthy of cataloguing. But it does seem that as time goes by, and the sheer volume of content – much of it not even vaguely professional in nature – expands, there will be fewer and fewer identifiable creators. It might be a democratisation of porn, and it might finally remove it from the entertainment mainstream to become something entirely separate.

Obviously, if the unknown photographer or model responsible for these images want to identify themselves, we’d be glad to hear from you and talk about further work.

 

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