Photo Exhibit: Les Insoumises, France's rebellious female courtesans

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In France today, the women known as Les Insoumises are feisty feminists who will not take any affront to their dignity lying down. During the Second Empire (1852-70), lying down was just what Les Insoumises excelled at, and dignity had nothing to do with it.

They were courtesans whose nickname"insoumises," meaning insubordinate, came from the fact that, unlike common prostitutes, they refused to submit to police licensing or conventional morals. They were glamorous, venal and usually ended up badly but while the going was good they were celebrated, from before the Empire and after its end, by writers from Dumas fils to Maupassant and Zola.

At the 39th-annual Rencontres d'Arles, France's most famous photography festival, the guest curator, the couturier Christian Lacroix, chose Les Insoumises to feature in a special and very entertaining section, explaining that he has long been fascinated by these colorful transgressors. The exhibition was co-curated by Laure Deratte.

The 50 photographs on view at the festival, which closed on Aug. 31, were collected by Philippe and Marion Jacquier, a husband-and-wife team who specialize in vintage prints in their Galerie Lumière des Roses in Montreuil, on the edge of Paris.

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