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June 2, 2024

Self-Portraits Taken by Hippolyte Bayard in the Garden From the 1840s

Before Instagram influencers, there was Hippolyte Bayard!

The earliest photographic processes were slow: most required minutes-long exposures to register an enduring image. Pictures often had to be made outdoors to take advantage of available light. Bayard was an inventor of one of the earliest photographic processes and produced some of the first self-portraits with a camera. Here, Bayard represents himself as a gardener, mending a trellis to guide the growth of his botanical wards. It was frequently argued that photography enabled nature to represent itself, but in Bayard’s allegorical garden, the photographer plays an active role as a cultivator of the new art of light.

By October 1840, a little over a year after several competing photographic processes had been made public, Bayard began staging elaborate self-portraits in his garden and other locations. His best known, Le Noy√© (The Drowned Man), was made on October 18, 1840.

In five of the seven self-portraits, he placed himself in garden settings. This was, in part, a practical decision since natural light was required to make photographs at the time. However, his choice of setting also reflects his passion for plants. He came from a family of gardeners—his maternal grandfather worked in the extensive grounds of the abbey in Breteuil, the village where Bayard grew up. His father, a justice of the peace, was a passionate amateur gardener who grew peaches in an orchard attached to the family home. The garden(s) featured in Bayard’s self-portraits may indeed be part of the family property in Breteuil or his own home in Batignolles—an area that was just on the outskirts of Paris.

These are some of amazing self-portraits taken by Hippolyte Bayard in his garden from the 1840s:


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