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Photography and Public Image

Today, the identity of a notable figure or celebrity may be largely crafted through photographic images.


Théophile Gautier

Nadar (Gaspard-Félix Tournachon)
(French, 1820–1910)

1855. Salted paper print, 10 1/16 x 8 3/4" (25.6 x 22.2 cm)

Nadar was a writer, photographer, printmaker, cartoonist, and balloonist who moved in bohemian circles in mid-19th-century France. After honing his portraiture skills by making caricatures of political figures, Nadar took up photography in 1853. He took portraits of his friends, many of whom were among the most prominent cultural figures in France.

Rejecting the formal poses that were then the norm in celebrity portraits, Nadar’s images convey the romantic and free artistic spirit of his subjects, and a sense of the photographer’s intimacy with them. In this portrait, French writer and critic Théophile Gautier’s bohemian appearance reinforces his image as an iconoclast who did not adhere to the social norms of the day. Nadar’s portraits are early examples of how celebrated and prominent figures used photographic portraiture to construct and establish their public personas.

Daniel, Malcolm. "Nadar (1820–1910)." In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/nadr/hd_nadr.htm (October 2004)

The visual or narrative focus of a work of art.

A term describing a wide variety of techniques used to produce multiple copies of an original design. Also, the resulting text or image made by applying inked characters, plates, blocks, or stamps to a support such as paper or fabric.

The way a figure is positioned.

A representation of a particular individual.

A rendering, usually a drawing, of a person or thing with exaggerated or distorted features, meant to satirize the subject.

Who Said What?
Of his technique, Nadar said, “What can [not] be learned…is the moral intelligence of your subject; it’s the swift tact that puts you in communion with the model, makes you size him up, grasp his habits and ideas in accordance with his character, and allows you to render, not an indifferent plastic reproduction that could be made by the lowliest laboratory worker, commonplace and accidental, but the resemblance that is most familiar and most favorable, the intimate resemblance.”1