A Brief History of 1950s Paris Prostitution via Iconic Strömholm Photography

A Brief History of 1950s Paris Prostitution via Iconic Strömholm Photography

Amies De Place Blanche, a recently released book of photographs by renowned Swedish photographer Christer Strömholm, features gorgeous black and white images of prostitutes in Paris' red light districts of Pigalle and Place Blanche in the early 1950s to the late 1960s.

"This is a book about humiliation, about the smell of whores and night life in cafes. This is a book about the quest for self-identity, about the right to live, about the right to own and control one's own body," writes Strömholm in the book's introduction.

Continuing the tradition of artists including Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas and Picasso -- who all painted iconic images of Parisian brothels and sex workers -- Strömholm's photographs feature both female and transsexual prostitutes.

A Brief History of 1950s Paris Prostitution via Iconic Strömholm Photography

Throughout the centuries, the world's oldest profession has been both publicly embraced and legally prosecuted in France. In 1804, Napoleon himself ordered the registration and bi-weekly health inspection of all prostitutes. State controlled legal brothels opened in Paris and (surprise!) became a massive sensation during the 19th century.

French law required that brothels be run by women, who were typically former women of the night themselves. By 1810, Paris had almost 200 officially approved brothels.

Prostitution in Paris had undergone a transition in the years preceding Strömholm's work, as France's maisons,aka brothels, closed in 1946 after a successful campaign by politician, spy and former prostitute Marthe Richard. This move worked to make prostitution less visible without suppressing the trade, thus preserving the country's "public morality."

Roughly 20,000 prostitutes were affected by this law and approximately 1,400 maisons were closed. Refusing to adhere to the regulation, however, many inventive former brothel owners soon opened hôtels de passé where prostitutes could work under more secretive conditions. This move effectively made prostitution legal, with only organization, pimping and good old fashioned street walking being off limits.

A Brief History of 1950s Paris Prostitution via Iconic Strömholm Photography

In 1960, France signed the Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others. This act defined France as a supporter of the international abolitionist movement, which advocated the eradication of prostitution.

A 2010 article in The Guardian estimated the current number of full-time male and female prostitutes in France to be between 20,000 and 30,000, with 80 percent being foreigners.

A Brief History of 1950s Paris Prostitution via Iconic Strömholm Photography

Dangerous Minds has additional images from Amies De Place Blanche.

References:

Key Dates in French Prostitution

Prostitution in France, Wikipedia

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