Jean Agélou was a photographer of erotic postcards and stereoviews during the beautiful years of La Belle Époque. Little is known about his life and no letters or portraits are known of him. The little information comes from (government) registers, but mainly from an analysis of his published photos.
His father Paul Agélou is stationed for the French postal service in Alexandria, Egypt. There he marries the Greek Marie Zaccaria. Their first son, Jean Bernard Agélou, was born on October 16, 1878. Jean leaves for Paris where he starts working as a photographer. The first nude photos of his hand appear in August 1905 in L’Étude Académique.
In June 1908, Jean opens a studio at the Armand Gauthier in the 18th district of Paris. In 1911 he starts a company that specializes in making and selling of postcards. The postcard is experiencing a golden period between 1900 and 1920. The cards are not only used for sending but are also popular collector’s items. Technological advances in printing technology mean that cards with photos can be printed on a very large scale.
Erotic photos published as postcards is a French specialty and is known as the French postcard. They are not intended to be sent, as they would be refused by the postal service and therefore do not have address lines on the back. The cards are for collectors and are sold in series of 5 or 10 by street vendors. Each series contains a model with different poses and cards exist showing small prints of the complete series so that the buyer can get an impression of his intended purchase. The cards feature Jean’s initials JA. In 1913, postcards are issued with the initials GA, which refers to Jean’s younger brother Georges Agélou, who joined the company.
Jean publishes his photos under different initials such as AJ or JA. Some photos have other initials referring to publishers, such as STL which refers to Éditions S.T.L. Sometimes the photos have no captions at all and can only be attributed with some certainty to the photographer because of the interior features and attributes in the studio that recur repeatedly in photos.
In the photos that appear in L’Étude Académique, the models are usually completely nude and assume classic poses. Some of these models also appear in the photographs published by Jean Agélou himself. In the photos from his own series, the models often pose half naked in lingerie. The photos are more subtle and sensual and are today classified as boudoir photography. Agélou’s photographs are of a high technical and artistic quality. The decorations and romantic backgrounds create an intimate atmosphere. The models look relaxed and seem at ease with the photographer. They are recruited in the theaters and nightclubs of Paris. The name is known for only a few models. His most famous model is Miss Fernande.
Judging by the range of photos offered on online auction sites today, it can be concluded that the stereoviews are much rarer than the postcards. They were apparently printed in much smaller editions. Jean Agélou produced paper card stereoviews in the format 9x16cm in 1906 under the brand name Stéréo-Nu. They were sold individually or in series of 12 or 25. They also appeared in the magazine Le Stéréo-Nu. Later he published at least 41 series of paper card stereoviews with the initials JA. The 8,5x17cm cards are black and white and the 9x15cm stereo cards have a sepia tone. Photos from a session with a model were published as postcards as well as stereo cards. It seems that Agélou worked with a normal camera and a stereo camera during the same session.
- Jean Agélou, de l’académisme à la photographie de charme, C. Bourdon, 2006