19th Century French Photographers: Girault de Prangey

19th Century French Photographers: Girault de Prangey
This is the latest in a series of photo essays on early French photographers Until 2019, Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey was largely unknown to fine art photography. Girault learned the daguerreotype process in 1841, most likely from Louis Daguerre or Hippolyte Bayard. He then traveled to Italy, Greece, Egypt, Turkey, Syria, and Palestine from 1842 – 1845 and returned with over 800 daguerreotypes. His pictures of the Acropolis and Jerusalem are the earliest known photographs of these sites. Upon his return, Girault stored the daguerrotypes in his attic and took up other hobbies. He died in 1892. A subsequent purchaser of Girault’s house found the trove and sold it at auctions in the early 2000s. Then in 2019, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York reassembled the collection and exhibited 150 prints. Ironically, Girault’s photographs have not yet been shown in Paris. The Musée d’Orsay scheduled a retrospective of his work from December 15, 2020 to February 7, 2021 but it was shut down before it opened due to Covid-19. Girault knew instinctively how to take an architectural photograph. Rather than imposing a unified vision of his own, he let the subject dictate the form, adapting his style to the scene. When conveying the scope of an ancient city, Girault took a spacious wide-angle view. (See the photo of Jerusalem above.) Joseph-Philibert Girault, Temple of Jupiter, Athens To emphasize the sheer monumentality of a ruin, he came in close to allow it to fill the frame. Joseph-Philibert Girault, Caryatid in Athens. Joseph-Philibert Girault, Thebes When rhythm and pattern were important, Girault instinctively knew that shooting head-on would be too static; instead, he did what all brilliant architectural photographers now advise. He focused on a corner, allowing the two sides of the structure to recede into the background. Joseph-Philibert Girault, Facade and North Colonnade of the Parthenon Where detail was key, Girault cut out all extraneous background and his focus was crisp and clear, as you can see in the photograph below.

Lead photo credit : Joseph-Philibert Girault, Jerusalem with The Dome of the Rock and Western Wall.

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Based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Fern Nesson is a fine art photographer with an MFA in photography. She visits Paris regularly where she captures interior scenes. Her work is abstract, and brings fresh perspective to lovers of Paris, while also illuminating interesting museum exhibitions and cultural events taking place in the City of Light. She recently published a book compilation of the popular Bonjour Paris series "50 Things I Miss About Paris." Purchase this beautiful, photography-filled book on Amazon or contact Fern directly by email: fernlnesson [at] gmail.com. She's offering a special deal for Bonjour Paris readers: purchase the book at cost, a $25 discount.