Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College

The Human Comedy: Chronicles of 19th-Century France

Home / Content / Nadar, élevant la Photographie à la hauteur de l'Art
Nadar, élevant la Photographie à la hauteur de l'Art

Nadar, élevant la Photographie à la hauteur de l'Art

Honoré Daumier (French, 1808–1879) Nadar, élevant la Photographie à la hauteur de l'Art (Nadar Elevating Photography to the Height of Art), 1862 Lithograph R.T. Miller Jr. Fund, 1995.4

While it seems that Daumier recognizes in this print the ar-tistic potential of photography, he makes Nadar’s elevation of photography to the heights of art literal. This visual pun can be seen to undermine the seriousness of photography as an art form.

THE BIRD’S EYE VIEW The perspective of Paris “viewed from a height” is a recur-ring one in literature and visual arts of the first half of the 19th century. Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel Notre Dame de Paris opens with an extended bird’s eye view of the city. A sweeping and panoramic vision of French society is like-wise implicit in the many illustrated satirical sketches or physiologies that were popular in the 1830s and 40s. One such collection, Le Diable à Paris (The Devil in Paris), opens with an image of the devil standing on an out-stretched map of Paris. A similar bird’s-eye perspective was sought by the great French photographer Nadar (pseudonym for Gaspard-Félix Tournachon). An aeronau-tics enthusiast, Nadar built an enormous hot air balloon from which to take the first-ever aerial photographs. Photography had been around since the 1820s with the pioneering work of Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre and his colleague Nicéphore Niépce, but early copperplate daguer-reotypes required long exposure times and could not be reproduced. Advances in photographic techniques meant that by Nadar’s time, photographers had greater freedom in terms of when and where they worked. The medium pre-sented greater expressive and artistic possibilities than ever before. Baudelaire was critical of the encroachment of photography upon non-mechanical media such as painting, drawing, and lithography. He believed photography was a valuable visual aid to the artist, but not an art in its own right.