Since the advent of photography in the mid-19th century, the new medium has been used to create a wide variety of erotic spanking and other fetish-related pictures (depicting birching, whipping, bondage, etc.). For over a century, black and white adult spanking photos were produced in surprising quantities and privately sold as an illicit, under-the-counter commodity.

In most countries, the law made little distinction between these images and blatant pornography until the late 1960s. By that time spanking photographs had been appearing in underground fetish specialty magazines and booklets for over two decades. In the early 1970s, slick, newsstand-quality periodicals entirely devoted to the spanking subculture (featuring glossy full-color reproductions) entered the mainstream market. These publications would proliferate until the Internet era came to dominate the industry in the late 1990s.

There are no known spanking daguerreotypes. The earliest spanking photographs date back to the 1850s. Many of these were child spanking photos portraying little boys or girls being punished by their mother. Some were even made into stereograms for 3D viewing. At that time domestic discipline was a more morally acceptable photographic subject than spanking as love play between two consenting adults. However, this position would reverse in the following decades.

Some of the earliest photographic works are notably modest and romantic in tone. Young women, clothed in voluminous undergarments, are shown bending over, waiting for their chastisement. Some had no nudity while others would show, through open drawers, a demurely exposed bare bottom. As time wore on, these images became more explicit. The most frequently used settings include the schoolroom, the boudoir, the realm of fantasy, mythology, and the great outdoors.

Photographers sometimes created humorous vignettes or used satire to mock social institutions or familiar figures from history or literature. This also reflects the subversive humor in many French and English spanking novels that were being published at the same time. A few of the more daring French photographers even attacked the Church, posing half-naked models as nuns and priests engaged in erotic flagellation. The majority of these photographs were produced in Paris, followed by Berlin, New York, and various cities throughout Europe and America.

A broad spectrum of erotic photographs (artistic nudes, spanking, and even raunchy sex acts) were discreetly sold, individually or in sets, by street dealers, tobacco shops, and a variety of vendors who bought them for resale, primarily to tourists. The once-notorious “French postcards” were popular with male tourists as they were small enough to be safely mailed inside an envelope. During the 1880s to 1930s era, it was considered a sexual rite of passage for a gentleman to experience the decadent music halls and brothels of Paris and return home with a secret cache of risque photographs (or postcards) as souvenirs. Erotic punishment photos also appeared in privately printed booklets in Paris such as Croupes Sanglantes. Scènes vécues and La Fesseuse passionnée by Jean d’Ayeud, both published in 1935.

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