Critique

Nadar: Portrait Photographer of an Era

The French caricaturist Nadar got into photography 150 years ago, pictures which many criticized at the time. Ukrainian photographer Viktor Marushenko talks about why and how the works of Nadar changed 19th century photography.

Viktor Marushchenko Age 69

Ukrainian photographer, founder and director of his own school of photography. Participant in almost seventy exhibitions in different countries, including the biennial of contemporary art in Venice (2001) and in Sao Paulo (2004).

There are several versions about the history of world photography: from multi-volume, detailed descriptions of different periods and trends to extremely simple, recently published booklets called “50 Photographers Everyone Should Know.” We’re aiming for one of the best anthologies of photography: «Photo Book», published by Phaidon, in which 500 photographers are presented and each of them, according to the authors, was a pioneer in his time regarding various trends and directions in photography. We will choose from this diverse field only those who have had an impact on contemporary photography and whose ideas still work today.

The period before the appearance of small, light cameras, useful for shooting reportage (the large-scale production of Leica cameras began in 1925) is called “pictorialism,” when photographers imitated painters and graphic artists. That time gave us a great deal of talented and interesting photographers, but almost all of them disappeared with the era itself. We nominate the Frenchman Nadar first, among the most interesting and important ones from that epoch.


{“img”:”/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Nadar_01.jpg”, “text”:”Charles Baudelaire”},
{“img”:”/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Nadar_02.jpg”, “text”:”Sarah Bernhardt”},
{“img”:”/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Nadar_03.jpg”, “text”:”Georges Boulanger”},
{“img”:”/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Nadar_04.jpg”, “text”:”Georges Clemenceau”},
{“img”:”/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Nadar_05.jpg”, “text”:”Eugene Delacroix”},
{“img”:”/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Nadar_06.jpg”, “text”:”Jules Favre”},
{“img”:”/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Nadar_07.jpg”, “text”:”Leon Michel Gambetta”},
{“img”:”/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Nadar_08.jpg”, “text”:”Gustave Dore”}

Nadar (real name: Gaspard-Felix Tournachon, 1820-1910) was a caricaturist, a novelist and a balloonist, but above all, he was a photographer. Gaspard-Felix penned small articles in newspapers that were accompanied by drawings that he signed as Nadar (in French, it means “yule”). Later, he would move on to photography using this pseudonym.

There is a lot written about Nadar, his life, and his work. It’s well known that Nadar was the first person to shoot Paris from the sky, the first to shoot in the Catacombs beneath the city, and the creator of the photo-interview genre.


{“img”:”/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Nadar_09.jpg”, “text”:”Alexandre Dumas”},
{“img”:”/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Nadar_10.jpg”, “text”:”Ilya Mechnikov”},
{“img”:”/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Nadar_11.jpg”, “text”:”Jean-Francois Millet”},
{“img”:”/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Nadar_12.jpg”, “text”:”Piotr Kropotkin”},
{“img”:”/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Nadar_13.jpg”, “text”:”Franz Liszt”},
{“img”:”/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Nadar_14.jpg”, “text”:”Nasser ad-Din Shah Qajar”},
{“img”:”/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Nadar_15.jpg”, “text”:”Andre Rochefort”},
{“img”:”/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Nadar_16.jpg”, “text”:”Georges Sand”}

At the end of the 19th century, many leaders of art and culture angrily spoke out against photography, which was becoming more and more popular. There were long articles and caricatures in the newspapers critical of the new style of art. Only few artists started to do photography and take advantage of it as a creative outlet. They have lived on to be remembered as artists with cameras. Nadar was one of them.

The great artist and classicist Ingres commissioned photos to him, which later became portraits.

Writers, artists and composers found such a warm atmosphere at Nadar’s studio on the Boulevard des Capucines that they began meeting there regularly. Nadar took all of their pictures: Manet, Corot, Dumas, Monet, Baudelaire, Georges Sand, Eugene Delacroix, Sarah Bernhardt, Daumier, Dore, Berlioz, Wagner and many others. He signed each print as an artist would sign an etching or a lithograph.

His portraits of his great contemporaries are the first and only true connection with the epoch. Nadar, with the help of his images, created a description of the times. The critic Ernest Lokan said of him, “He directs the sun in order to create a history of mankind”.


{“img”:”/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Nadar_17.jpg”, “text”:”Ernest Shackleton”},
{“img”:”/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Nadar_18.jpg”, “text”:”Jules Verne”},
{“img”:”/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Nadar_19.jpg”, “text”:”Gustave Eiffel”},
{“img”:”/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Nadar_21.jpg”, “text”:”Aleksandr III”},
{“img”:”/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Nadar_22.jpg”, “text”:”Jean-Henri Fabre”},
{“img”:”/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Nadar_23.jpg”, “text”:”Emile Zola”},
{“img”:”/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Nadar_24.jpg”, “text”:”Auguste Rodin”},
{“img”:”/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Nadar_25.jpg”, “text”:”Claude Monet”}

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