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April 28, 2021

Two of the Earliest “Revolving” Self-Portraits by the Tournachon Brothers From the 19th Century

Gaspard-Félix Tournachon (April 6, 1820 – March 20, 1910), also known as Nadar, was a famous French photographer and caricaturist. Nadar was one of the earlier photographers working with portraiture. Around 1865 he produced this series of self-portraits consisting of 12 frames showing different angles of him sitting still in a chair. Except for a smile in 1 frame, not even a fold in his jacket or a single hair seems to change between the different angles.

This could be regarded as a predecessor to the chronophotography which Marey and Muybridge started to experiment with more than 10 years later. As the sequence revolves around space rather than time it is even more related to the ‘bullet-time’ effect popularized by “The Matrix” about 135 years later. There’s no clue if more than one camera was used in the shoot, but it’s certainly well-executed.

This was a bit strange because it is unusual to see a photographic self-portrait in this kind of sequence at the time. Though, he wasn’t the only one to do this. Before Nadar, in 1858, his younger brother Adrien taking a revolving self-portrait by photographing 12 varying images of him standing next to a chair, holding his hat slowly rotated through 360 degrees.

Adrien Tournachon (August 25, 1825 – January 24, 1903) was the younger brother of Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, known by the pseudonym Nadar. The two became embroiled in a legal battle over the exclusive right to the name “Nadar.” Félix had arranged for Adrien, a painter, to learn the photographic process and then to open his own photographic studio. When the business began to fail the two collaborated, and Félix supplied financial backing, contacts, and his pseudonym. Adrien asked Félix to relinquish his share in the studio and continued the practice alone using the name “Nadar jeune,” which prompted Félix to take legal action. After the court ruled that Félix was “the only, the true Nadar,” Adrien turned his attention to photographing animals.


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