During the early twentieth century, Parisian brothels were famous for their luxury and elite clientele. Indeed, these institutions were completely legal in Paris until 1946 and the country only declared prostitution illegal in 2016. Parisian prostitutes certainly lived an interesting life in the early 1900s. They typically sought work in the big city to provide for their provincial families and while employed as sex workers, they made roughly 10 times more than the average citizen. Work was easy to come by, as many Parisian men sought in brothels the sexual release they could not receive in their marriages. The well-paid women were hardly spared all hardship, though. Disease ran rampant among them, for example, because there were very few ways to treat STDs and condoms were expensive.
One man, who chose to go by moniker Monsieur X instead of his real name, befriended many of these Parisian prostitutes in the 1920s and 30s. He took hundreds of pictures of the women and they actually look comfortable in his risque snaps. Though Monsieur X waited until his wizened years to share the photographs, many of which were taken in the Rue Pigalle brothel, they're pretty extraordinary and some have even been published.
Unlike famed photographer E. J. Bellocq, who took pictures of prostitutes in New Orleans, Monsieur X is a mystery to the public. He took countless photos for his own personal viewing pleasure and some of them were only marginally erotic. His passion has kept the spirits of subjects like Jojo, Mimi, Nenette, and others alive and well. Their smiles, playfulness, and laughter, similar to those found in so-called "harem photos," reveal the more complex nature of French prostitution.