Saving 1950s Pinup Photography (NSFW) From Fading Away

Artists have depicted nudes in their work for millennia. The Venus of Hohle Fels was carved from mammoth ivory 35,000 to 40,000 years ago and it still exists today. It's satisfying to know that future generations will be able to enjoy erotic depictions in many mediums, carefully preserved in museums worldwide. Pinup photos from the 1950s might not be one of those mediums, however.

"Cheesecake" photography was all the rage in the 1950s. The term is the female equivalent of "beefcake," and it was used to describe the style of boudoir photos and bathing beauty pictures of that era. Photographing women in skimpy bathing suits was nothing new, but it took some time before pinup photography arrived in living color.

The Eastman Kodak company introduced color film to the masses in 1935 when it released Kodachrome (arguably, the most beloved film ever made). You won't find many nude portraits in color from the 1930s or 1940s, though, and there is a reason: obscenity laws. 

Kodachrome was developed using a special process that could only be done in a commercial laboratory. To send nude photos to a lab was to take a risk. It was a risk that many frisky photographers wouldn't take, and by the late 1940s and into the 1950s, they wouldn't need to. "Develop at home" color films like Ektachrome and Anscochrome arrived to great fanfare. Unfortunately, those films had a hidden defect that wouldn't become known for decades: The colors shift and fade away.

I learned about this after buying a small collection of 1950s pinup photos. Some of the slides in my collection were too faded to restore, but other still had enough color to be discerned. So began my two-year project to restore these photographs to their original color and beauty. The restoration process wasn't complicated, but it was tedious. Each 35mm slide was:

  • Blasted with compressed air to remove dust;

  • Cured with a non-abrasive chemical treatment (Vitafilm);

  • Scanned at 5400dpi (approximately 42 megapixels);

  • Retouched of stray hairs, dirt, water stains, holes, and scratches; and

  • Restored to original color.

I hope you enjoy this collection of vintage photography. (I've blacked-out the naughty parts, but still, you should treat the photos below the fold as if they are not safe for work. You can see the uncensored photos here.) For me, the 1950s represent the last era before erotic artwork shifted toward pornography. If we're not careful, the world stands to lose a generation of vintage art that isn't quite old enough to get the attention that it deserves, but is beautiful just the same.

1950s Pinup Photos, Restored

1950s-era pinup of a topless woman posing in the desert.
1950s-era pinup of a nude woman posing against a red background.
1950s-era amateur nude of a topless woman posing beside an urn.
1950s-era woman of a naked woman in front of a waterfall.
1950s-era pinup of a topless woman posing amongst fine art nude illustrations.
1950s-era pinup of a topless woman posing against a blue background.
1950s-era pinup of a naked woman jumping rope.
1950s-era pinup of a topless woman with a red umbrella.
1950s-era pinup of a naked woman posing with a guitar.
1950s-era nude pinup of a woman posing in the desert.
1950s-era amateur nude photograph of a blonde woman and a brunette.
1950s-era pinup of a topless woman posing in a garden.
1950s-era topless boudoir photo.