The Stereoscopic Nudes Of The 19th And 20th Century

The golden age of three-dimensional erotic photography.

Two things are certain: one, that every piece of new technology will be jumped on by pornographers; and two, that as soon as that technology is invented, someone will try to find a way to improve it.

The stereoscopic photography of the late 19th and early 20th century developed as an attempt to add realism to the still-new world of photography, adding depth and realism – or at least a gimmicky approximation of realism. And the nude photographers and pioneering pornographers of the era, ever keen to make their images more lifelike and appealing to the voyeur, were quick to jump on the idea of stereoscopic images, especially as the quality of photography at the time was often rather basic. Anything to improve it was welcome.

Stereoscopic photography is similar to – but not quite the same as – 3D. The end results are the same, images that have a depth and realism that regular photographs didn’t have, but the way of reaching that effect was different to the coloured lenses or polaroid glasses used in the more well-known forms of 3D. You can read more about the techniques behind stereoscopy in our feature on the spectacular French Diableries, but basically, these images used two almost identical photos, side by side, that could be viewed with a special (and often rather fancy) device, which did not use any special lenses but simply forced the eyes to see the two pictures as one image. This was often a learning experience – getting your eyes to focus on the images can be a long and sometimes frustrating experience, but once it clicks, the results are impressive.

You don’t actually need a viewer, though. You can create the 3D effect by staring at the middle of the image, focusing on one point, and going cross-eyed until the two images converged and the illusion is created. You might give yourself a headache, but when it happens, it’s pretty impressive. We take no responsibility for any resulting eye strain, though.

Stereoscopic erotica has never quite gone away – if you search online, you’ll find a lot of new imagery, from glamour shots to hardcore. But the material that emerged in those early days of photography through to the 1950s (including the fine work of Harold Lloyd) has a special charm that is impossible to recreate. Here’s just a small selection.

Lee Miller by Theo Miller
Marilyn Monroe

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