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French Photographer, Caricaturist, Writer, and Inventor

Nadar Photo
Movement: Modern Photography

Born: April 8, 1820 - Paris, France

Died: March 21, 1910 - Paris, France

"There is no such a thing as artistic photography. In photography, like in all things, there are people who can see and others who cannot even look."

Summary of Nadar

Nadar was a flamboyant personality and a man of infatigable spirit. A writer, caricaturist, inventor and adventurer, yet still best known perhaps as a celebrity portrait photographer, he placed himself at the very epicenter of nineteenth century French modernism. In addition to his satirical caricatures, Nadar produced (and sold) informal "inner-life" portraits of the new literati from his landmark studio-cum-gallery, a site from which, the Impressionist also launched their inaugural public exhibition. Restricted by the studio, Nadar took to the under and above ground to expand his photographic repertoire, patenting aerial photographs for mapmaking and surveying, and taking his handmade electric light underground to illuminate his unique photographs of the famous Paris catacombs. Though his entrepreneurial spirit led to several setbacks, Nadar nonetheless set commercial (in addition to aesthetic) precedents for the reproduction and hawking of his superior celebrity portraits.

Key Ideas

Nadar made his name initially as a satirical writer, critic and caricaturist. Like his esteemed circle of friends, he viewed the development of modernity through analytical eyes and delivered his stinging verdicts on the political classes through the satirical press.
Once established as a portrait photographer, Nadar set about creating a celebrity culture for nineteenth-century Paris. Through his connections with the pioneers of French modernism, and with an affable manner that earned their complete trust, he was able to produce informal and engaging portraits of his famous sitters that he sold on to the public in unprecedented numbers.
In his desire to move photography out of the studio, Nadar invented a portable electric lighting system. His ingenuity allowed him to take his camera down into the famous Paris catacombs. Off limits to the general public, Nadar was able to evidence something of the scale of the sprawling underground crypt for the first time.
Having revealed something of subterranean Paris, Nadar took next to skies in hot air balloons to offer a bird's-eye view of his great city. Though his aerial adventures were fraught with complications and dashed dreams, he can still be credited with producing the world's first successful aerial photography.
Nadar Photo

The first child of Thérèse Maillet and Victor Tournachon, Nadar was born with the name Gaspard-Félix Tournachon in Paris in 1820. Nadar's father was a printer and publisher from a prominent Lyonnais family of merchants and printers. An intelligent and liberal-minded man, Victor ran a moderately successful publishing company in Paris' Latin Quarter, publishing a range of titles in French, English, Italian, Spanish, Latin, and Greek. Due to the political nature of certain volumes, Victor's firm was often watched by government censors.

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