Friday, April 20, 2012

18 Stunning Vintage Portrait Photos of the Famous Taken by Felix Nadar in the 19th Century

It's not hard to come by good portrait photography these days. From the movie-like photographs of Annie Leibovitz's to the impressive close-ups of Platon to the somber images of Dan Winters, viewers are spoiled for choice when it comes to celebrity photographers. It was a different story some 200 years ago, when pioneering portrait photographer Félix Nadar took it upon himself to change the face of portrait photography with his unorthodox approach to the medium, effectively becoming the most famous celebrity photographer of the 19th century.

Back then, the photographic medium was still in its infancy, so the trend was largely dictated by the standards of 19th century portrait painting coupled with the limits of the early camera.

Even with these limitations, Nadar refused to follow the trend of having his work look the same as everybody else's. He experimented with different lenses and set-ups, being one of the first to go with close-ups instead of full-body shots. He also worked with artificial lights, something that wasn't so easy given the availability of portable electric lights at the time.

"Revolving" selfportrait by Nadar, ca. 1865

Towards the end of the 19th century, he became the go-to photographer for all of the celebrities of the time, from the stage and early film actress Sarah Bernhardt to the composers Claude Debussy and Franz Liszt to the engineer and architect Gustave Eiffel to science fiction writer Jules Verne, almost everyone who was someone in the 1800s eventually ended up sitting in front of his camera.

Celebrities went to Nadar not only because he made them look good, he also made them feel good. He had "the moral comprehension of his subject...which permitted the most familiar and favorable resemblance, the intimate one." Above all, he championed the photographic medium as an art form, refusing to bow down to purists that photography only served to advance science. For him, it was art, and it shows in his photographs.

Louis Daguerre, 1844

George Sand, 1877

Franz Liszt, ca.1880

Eugène Delacroix, 1858

Jaques Offenbach, ca. 1860

Henri Rochefort, ca. 1893

Gustave Doré, ca. 1855

Sarah Bernhardt, 1865

Charles Baudelaire, 1855

Auguste Rodin, 1893

Emile Zola, ca. 1895

Jules Verne, ca. 1885

Peter Krapotkin, ca. 1870

Alexandre Dumas, 1855

Élisée Reclus, ca. 1895

Stéphane Mallarmé, 1896

Claude Monet, 1899

Edouard Manet, ca. 1870

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