Jean Bernard Agélou was born on 16 October 1878 in Alexandria, Egypt. His father was French and his mother was Greek. He started a career as a photographer of erotic images in Paris. Erotic photography was booming in the beginning of the 20th century in France. His first photos appear in the nude magazine L'Etude Académique in August 1905. His younger brother Georges Agélou joins him later and together they run a flourishing business.
Nude photography was more or less tolerated by the government as long as the images were not obscene or disturb public order. Photographers needed to be careful not the cross the invisible line. The did not use their full name, but used initials or pseudonyms. Agélou published his photos with different initials like J.A. or A.J. They could not all be traced to the same photographer if photos were considered inappropriate. Nude photos were therefor also called risqué photos (risky photos). Later photos with the initials G.A. refer to Georges Agélou, but these photos are probably also shot by Jean.
Agélou moved his photo studio and workshop to rue Armand Gauthier in the XVIII district of Paris in June 1908. He starts printing and selling his photos as postcards. Erotic postcards are know as French postcards and were very popular and sold in great numbers by street vendors. Agélou had a virtual monopoly on the nude postcard. His postcards were cherished by the soldiers in the trenches during the First World War. Military censorship was tolerant as these postcards were considered good for morale.
A female model that appears often in his work is Fernande. She was his muse and he photographed her during the various stages of her life. With her he created his best work.
Jean and Georges died in a car accident in 1921. Jean Agélou made thousands of portraits of young women, but there are no known portraits of the photographer himself. His nude and boudoir photos are technically and artistically of high quality and appreciated today by collectors of vintage erotic photography.
Jean Agélou stereo photos
Stereo photos of Jean Agélou are more rare than his French Postcards. In 1906, he produced a series of at least 236 photos in 9x16cm format. These were branded Stéréo Nu (Stereo Nude) and can be recognised by the abbreviation S.N. They were available as glass stereoviews and paper stereocards and sold individually or in sets of 12 or 25. They were also marketed through a bimonthly magazine Le Stéréo-Nu. Each copy included 12 stereo images. The reader could cut out the views and place them in a stereoscope.
From 1911, Agélou published at least 41 series of stereo photos on paper with the J.A. logo. They have a size of 9 x 15cm or 8,5 x 17cm and exist in black & white or with a sepia tone. Some of the stereocards in my collection are cropped, perhaps done by the original owner to make it fit for his stereoscope, others are mounted on 8,5 x 17cm cardboards. This format was more common and supported by more stereoscopes.
Jules Richard published his erotic stereo photos as glass stereoviews but Agélou's photos with the J.A. logo were only available as paper stereocards. Nudity in photographs was banned in France in 1908. Erotic images were often secretly sold by street vendors and I think that paper stereocards were easier to trade than the fragile and more expensive glass slides.
- Jean Agélou - De l'académisme à la photographie de charme, Christian Bourdon, 2006
- Stereo nudes 1850-1930, S. Nazerieff, 1985
- French postcard via Wikipedia