Boys have inspired many photographers and since the late 19th century, the nude boy has been the favorite subject of many photographers, professional or not. Today, due to recent concerns about child pornography, few photographers continue this tradition.
At the end of 19th century the most prominent photographer of the male nude was Wilhelm von Gloeden (1856–1931), a boylover himself, whom specialized in pastoral nude studies of Italian boys. Other notable photographers of nude boys up until the 1930s were von Gloeden's cousin Guglielmo Plüschow (1852–1930), Gaetano D'Agata (1883–1949), American painter Thomas Eakins (1844–1916) who used his photographs as models for some of his paintings, American photographer F. Holland Day (1864–1933), and author Baron Corvo (pseud. of Frederick William Rolfe) (1860–1913) who took many photographs of his young Italian boyfriends. Also notable was the contribution of Rudolf Lehnert (1878–1948) who photographed adolescent boys and girls in Tunisia. These pictures were circulated among boylovers such as the "Uranian" poets in England, but also used as illustrations in the German homosexual magazine Der Eigene (1899–1929) and in the early publications of The Fortune Press and The Cayme Press.
By the 1930s several photographers working on homoerotic themes, like Herbert List (1903–1975), showed an interest to boys as subjects, whereas others like Karel Egermeier, Jacques Simonot (1925-1982) and others, focused exclusively on boys publishing their work in youth and scouting magazines. The post-war naturist culture gave many opportunities to capture naked boys at play, with Hajo Ortil (1905–1983) being the most prominent naturist photographer of boys. The photographic output on boys of the first half of the 20th century was later presented in popular books such as The Boy: A Photographic Essay (1964) and Boys will be Boys (1966).
During the 1960s, documentary photographer Will McBride (1931– ) begun an interesting body of work with a special focus on boys including several nude studies that served as models for his work as a sculptor. Around the same time photographer, and later director, Larry Clark (1943– ) begun his projects of photographing teenagers in the United States suburbia.
The sexual and gay liberation of the late 1960s-early 1970s had their impact on the proliferation of nude boy photography. During the mid 1970s, at least a dozen magazines featuring naked photographs of boys, mostly "physique" poses, taken by amateurs (but also professionals like Harlan 'Slim' Pfeiffer) circulated freely in Europe and North America. A few years later, however, magazines like Boy (published by COQ International), Naked Boyhood Magazine (published by Lyric International), Piccollo, David, Beach Boy, Jean's, Tommy, Chicken, Boy Studies, and others, have become illegal.
During the 1980s publishing pictures of naked boys took different ways. Laws in Europe were tolerant of work that had artistic merit and a considerable number of photographers like Gérard Marot, Negrepont, Bernard Alapetite, Christophe Baltus, Jos Maier, D.H. Mader (1948– ) and others, had their works published by specialized publishers like J.M.V. Diffusion or self-published. This trend continued somewhat well into the 1990s with photographer Mike Tedder (1958– ), publishers Janssen-Verlag and Edition Pojkart and the glossy magazines Martin (in Czech Republic), OK Magazine (in the Netherlands), Gayme (in the United States), as well as the bilingual English/German Koinos.
With the turn of the 21st century concerns over child pornography became ever stronger with artists like Jock Sturges (1947– ), Sally Mann (1951– ) and naturist magazines like Jeunes et Naturels having troubles with the Law. As a result, publishers became unable to publish photographs of naked boys and photographers became reluctant to use boys as their subjects. Perhaps the next step will be to attack the work of Anthony Goicolea (1971– ) and Bernard Faucon (1950– ), who often produced staged photography with the use of mannequis and manipulated self-portraits, in line with the latest "virtual child pornography" laws.
- Giovanni Dall'Orto, "Brevissima storia del nudo maschile nella fotografia."
- D.H. Mader, "The problems and pleasures of looking: photographers of 'scoutisme'," Gayme 50-58.
- Rictor Norton, "The beginnings of Beefcake or, the origins of the male nude in photography."