Ostra Studio was a photography studio in Paris that was well-known in the 1930s for producing high-quality erotic pictures of nudes and fetishistic scenes of bondage, whipping, and spanking. The studio was an offshoot of the equally famous Biederer Studio founded by Jacques Biederer (1887-1942) and his brother Charles Biederer in 1908.
The Biederer Studio had already gained a reputation for making elegant and risque images of female nudes and erotic corporal punishment — including elaborate depictions of F/F domination, Maledom, scenes of male-submissive Femdom, and even pony play. The Ostra (which means "oyster") division, formed in the late '30s, was an attempt to create a separate publishing house for "Editions Ostra" — albums of photo-sets based on erotic themes.
Unlike the studio-bound Biederer line, many of the Ostra pictures were done outdoors. These include romantic, mildly suggestive images of couples enjoying nature, nudes in classical poses, humorous, voyeuristic displays of partial nudity, and scenes of playful spanking. Sometimes several photos were taken in a series in order to tell a simple story. For example, a historical photo-set shows a Napoleonic soldier confronting two women and eventually spanking them (see photo in gallery below).
In the studio, Ostra produced many sleek, sophisticated photos depicting domestic discipline as well as dominatrix-and-slave BDSM scenarios. One remarkable series of doggie training images may well be the first of their kind.
Studio Ostra also did commercial photographic work for La Lingerie Moderne, Yva Richard's mail-order catalog of lingerie and bondage accessories, as well as photo illustrations for erotic books.
Early fetish films
In addition to making groundbreaking nude and BDSM photographs, Biederer is among the very first to create erotic S&M stag reels in the 1930s. The total number of films may never be known, but at least three, possibly more, have survived to the present day.
A vast collection of pornographic and fetish reels made in France from the 1920s to the '60s have been preserved by Editions Astarte's Les Archives d' Eros series. In 2000, Cult Epics (the company that released Irving Klaw's 1950s bondage films on disc) made these obscure films availabe on DVD in a five-part Vintage Erotica series. The second volume, Vintage Erotica anno 1930, has two extraordinary 3-minute F/F shorts marked "Editions Ostra" on the title cards. A third film, La Vase Brise, appears in Vintage Erotica anno 1940.
Biederer used the same sets, models, props — even the same whips — seen in his many photographs. He also shot still photos of the movie sessions just as Irving Klaw would do twenty years later in New York.
Dressage au Fouet
Dressage au Fouet (Raising with the Whip), begins with a topless submissive wearing stockings, shoes, and panties, kneeling before her lingerie-clad mistress. Her wrists bound with rope, she is lashed with a long whip as she kisses the feet and legs of her mistress. Next, the sub is whipped about 30 times while standing then lays across a table. With her undergarment pulled down she is whipped again. The last shot is a close-up of the mistress kissing her slave.
Sous Les Caresses du Martinet
The second film-loop, Sous Les Caresses du Martinet (Under the Caresses of the Martinet) has a more playful, consensual tone. A woman wearing only panties, stockings, and shoes stands before a mirror lightly flogging herself with a martinet. She then flails away at a female submissive who is sitting in a chair. The submissive girl, who seems to be enjoying herself, is flogged in a variety of positions.
It is not known if Biederer directed these himself. Both featurettes are reasonably well-edited and contain a surprising number of close-up "reaction" shots, something few fetish filmmakers, including Klaw, bothered to include.
La Vase Brise
The third film, La Vase Brise (The Broken Vase), is a simple two-minute vignette about a clumsy maid who knocks over a vase while dusting. Her mistress has her kneel on a chair where she gets a brisk hand spanking. The elegant chair seen in this reel is also used as a prop in scores of Biederer's spanking photo-sets.
Ostra vs. Biederer
Identifying a Jacques Biederer photograph is not difficult in itself, but separating the work of the two divisions is a daunting task. This is because very few are signed and both product lines made hundreds of similar images. A limited number of photos are signed Ostra or have a logo of a question mark inside an inverted triangle. Most are unmarked. Some Biederer Studio photos have a "B" scratched into the corner, but the majority are also not signed.
One can only extrapolate by using the marked photographs as a guide in matching up images with the same theme, props, models, costume items, and set decorations.
End of an era and future legacy
In 1940 France was invaded by Nazi Germany. During the German occupation which lasted until 1944, Yva Richard, Biederer/Ostra Studios, and other purveyors of erotica faded away. As the Biederer brothers were of Jewish descent, they were seized by the Nazis and deported to the concentration camp at Auschwitz where they perished in 1942.
But the legacy of Biederer's daring and innovative work lives on in the photos that are now widely available on the Internet and the influence they've had on the early development of fetish fashion, art, and photography. Biederer broke new ground and set the standard for later artists such as Charles Guyette and Irving Klaw who followed in his footsteps.
There is a book about the Biederer/Ostra Studio entitled Les Éditions Ostra: L'âge d'Or du Fétichisme (2007) by Alexandre Dupouy. (Astarté, Paris) ISBN 9782909607191. This is a companion piece to Dupouy's book about Yva Richard.
Biederer's work is also well represented in the photobook Jeux de Dames Cruelles 1850-1960 by Serge Nazarieff (Benedikt Taschen Verlag: 1992).
The historical drama Quartet (1981), set in Paris in 1927, shows a fetish photographer at work, most likely inspired by Biederer. A nude model wearing only a maid's apron poses with a martinet, about to whip her mistress (video clip).
Doggie training with real doghouse.
Whipping with a rope martinet.
Legs-up position (with corner logo).
From the ballet class series.
First in polka-dot pajamas series A.
Outdoor spanking (note triangle logo).
Stinging nettles (note triangle logo).