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This is the latest in a series of photo essays on early French photographers
Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, who took the name Nadar, was one of the first portrait photographers. In the 1850s, he made extraordinarily fine studio portraits of his friends. Lucky for us, many of these friends were among the most famous romantic figures of 19th century France, among them Baudelaire, Sarah Bernhardt, and Gérard de Nerval.
Nadar put the full impact of his personality to work in service of his portraits. He engaged his subjects in intimate and lively conversation while posing them in his studio. This approach produced extemporaneous, collaborative portraits of unsurpassed intimacy. No other early 19th century portraits came even close.
Nadar knew exactly what he was doing and what he wanted to accomplish:
“ psychological side of photography.” (1856)
Nadar’s portraits are instantly recognizable for their style: solid black backgrounds, bust or half-length poses, concentration on the face, naturalistic posture, often no direct eye contact. His style captured the life and personality of the sitter, allowing us to feel his presence intensely. Once experienced, a Nadar portrait and its subject are never to be forgotten.
Lead photo credit : Sarah Bernhardt. Photo credit: Nadar