The team of Rudolf Franz Lehnert and Ernst Heinrich Landrock is probably the best known of all Orientalist photographers. Lehnert was born in 1878 in what is now the Czech Republic, and was then part of the Hapsburg Empire. Landrock was also born in 1878, in Germany. In 1904 Lehnert and Landrock became partners in a photographic studio in Tunis. For ten years they produced a large quantity of photographs and postcards in Tunisia. Landrock was the manager, and Lehnert was the photographer.
Orientalism, a romanticized depiction of the Middle East, was a popular style of art in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Painters and writers made the genre popular before the advent of photography and thus Lehnert and Landrock adopted the Orientalist style. Some critics have complained that Orientalism is denigrating to the people of the Middle East, but I would disagree. Those opposed to Orientalism say that any portrayal of a non-western culture must necessarily depict it as primitive and inferior. This attitude seems to me to indicate an intolerant attitude of the critic rather than of the Orientalist artist. Opponents also say it is not realistic.
I am not qualified to judge if Lehnert and Landrock postcards realistically portray early 20th century Tunis, but I know that postcards in general are not meant to depict reality. I live in Florida. I know that Florida’s climate is humid, with frequent rain. On beaches here you will see people of all ages and both sexes, and occasionally a discarded soda can. On postcards of Florida beaches you will only see sunny sky, spotlessly clean sand, and attractive young women. It’s true that this is unrealistic, but it is not disparaging of Florida, and most people have enough sense to know that reality may be different from a postcard.
The nudity shown on Lehnert and Landrock postcards may be realistic. Islamic societies are often thought to have strict dress codes for women, but there are exceptions to this rule. Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) visited Cairo in 1869 and wrote of seeing people of both sexes naked in public. (See Chapter 31 of his book The Innocents Abroad) Michael Wolgensinger photographed a girl he saw naked in public in Iran in 1958. Pigtails in Paint posted the photo here.
It would not be possible in one post to adequately cover the vast amount of images that were photographed by Lehnert and Landrock, so this post will be limited to a few of the photos of just one of their many models. She appears to me to be among the youngest of their models. Her name is not known. Although Lehnert and Landrock photographed both clothed and nude models, I have only found nude photos of this particular girl. The first three photos show the girl alone. Titles in French are from the internet source of the photo (most are from Wikimedia Commons). I composed the titles in English for pictures that had no title.
In the next two pictures the girl is with Fathma, one of the few Lehnert and Landrock models whose name is known.
The following two photos show the girl with a young boy. His race indicates that he is probably a slave. When the photo was taken, Tunisia was a protectorate of France. Although slavery was illegal in France, the protectorate status meant that Tunisia was internally self-governing and slavery was legal in Tunisia. Note that the boy’s genitals are censored, but the girl’s are not. Lehnert and Landrock made other photos with nude females and clothed or censored males. An example has been posted on Pigtails here. I have not discovered why there was this aversion to male nudity. My guess would be that male nudity was offensive to many of the people who bought postcards; Lehnert and Landrock may have felt they could sell more postcards by avoiding male nudity.
Female nudity was also censored sometimes, usually by only slightly blurring the vulva. I could not find a censored picture of the particular model who is the focus of this post, but here is a censored photo, from a postcard, of another young Lehnert and Landrock model. The following is the same photo from the book Woman, an Historical and Gynaecological and Anthropological Compendium by H.H. Ploss, M. Bartels, and P. Bartels; edited by E. J. Dingwall (1935). This is the only instance in which I have found a censored and uncensored version of the same photo.
There seems to be no obvious reason why some are censored and some are not. The age of the model, and the situation being photographed appear to have no bearing on whether the photo is censored. If a photo was censored for postcards sold in a more restrictive jurisdiction, I would expect that there would be both censored and uncensored versions of the same postcard. I have not found an example of this (in the photos above the uncensored version is from a book, not a postcard). The next two photos can both be found at multiple places on the internet, and may give an idea of why we don’t find two versions of the same picture. The second photo is merely a cropped version of the first, yet it appears many different places on the internet. Apparently one postcard collector cut the card to fit the space in his album, and multiple internet sites posted scans of that one card. This indicates that although there are many instances of a photo posted on the internet, they may all be scanned from one or two postcards. Therefore, there may be two different versions of the same postcard, but only one has been posted on the net.
In 1914, the First World War began. Lehnert and Landrock were both nationals of countries at war with France, the protecting power in Tunisia. Their business was closed and they had to leave Tunisia. In 1924, after the war, Lehnert and Landrock started their business over again in Cairo, Egypt. Lehnert died in 1948 and Landrock in 1966. Their business in Cairo has continued after the death of its founders. In 1982, the new manager of the shop discovered the old negatives in storage. There was a resurgence in popularity of Lehnert and Landrock’s art. There was some concern that the negatives of nudes may not be safe in Cairo, so they were sent to the Elysée museum in Lausanne, Switzerland.