Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

Lost cache of erotica reveals hidden passions of Ireland's gentry

A rare collection of Irish-made erotica dating back to the 19th Century has been uncovered in one of Ireland's 'Big Houses'.

The intriguing cache of 324 glass plates created by photographer Henry Pakenham Mahon -- the owner of the Strokestown Park demesne in Co Roscommon -- has given an insight into the passions of the gentry during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The glass plates -- dating from 1893 to 1919 -- were gathering dust in drawers and the dark room at the privately owned house until a new project got under way to catalogue and digitalise the fragile glass plates.

"It was a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what a gentleman photographer of that time was doing," Katriona Byrne, curator of the new 'More Than Meets the Eye' exhibition at Strokestown Park, said.

"It is very interesting how much information you got from the physical plates themselves, there were names stuck on them with bits of notes. You can see colours where he has touched up elements."

Ms Byrne said that the researchers believed they may have "identified the only Irish-made erotica to date" from that period. However, she said more erotica on glass plates in private collections would most likely emerge following the exhibition at Strokestown.

"There was a myth it used to be staff or servants that were coerced; that was a myth and completely incorrect," Ms Byrne said about those who posed for the images.

"The erotica features live models, photographs of erotic cartoons and photographs of classic oil nudes and photographs of his own drawings as well."

Around 40pc of all the images were "manipulated" -- showing 'photoshopping' was already under way in the Edwardian era. The photographer added definition to hair or eyes and in some cases the position of an arm was altered to make an image "ruder".

The collection features some of the best-known Edwardian actresses of the day, including Pauline Chase and Maude Hill.

However, it emerged Mr Pakenham Mahon wasn't acquainted with the ladies but merely indulged in a passion of the time, 'cardomania'. This involved people trading photographic cards of prominent people.

The exhibition is open at the house until the end of November. More details are available at www.strokestownpark.ie.

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