It is inspiring to study artists that are long gone because their life and career always have something extraordinary to give to the new generation. Nadar, pseudonym for a French balloonist, journalist, novelist, caricaturist and photographer, Gaspard-Félix Tournachon. He was ordained to become the most notable photographer of France.
Since his real name is too long, sticking to Nadar is better and this is what he wanted to be called. Nadar was born in Paris in April 1820. For Le Charivari (an illustrated newspaper), Nadar worked as a caricaturist in 1848. A year later, he produced Petit journal pour rire (Small newspaper for fun/laugh) and Revue comique (comic review). The French Revolution (1830) acted as a catalyst for caricature making.
Later Nadar became fond of photography and turned away from caricature although he still liked it. From 1853 to 1858, he became the earliest person to capture aerial photographs. He patented the plan of using aerial photographs in making maps in 1855. For three years he experimented and then finally produced the first of its kind. He took an image of Petit Becetre, a French village. The picture was taken from an hot air balloon, about 80m above ground. Unfortunately, these pictures have been misplaced or destroyed by some means. The oldest one in existence is by James Wallace, which was taken in 1860. When Nadar was taking aerial photographs, huge equipments had to be taken on board, a complete darkroom was carried. However, when the dry plate process was developed, photography became easier.
While in the catacombs of Paris, for work, the inspirational photographer pioneered in using artificial lighting for photography and his skill in exposing his subjects was remarkable. He learned many tricks and tips from his friends who were painters and then used them in his photography. He used screens, mirrors, veils and reflectors to improve the light quality. His focus while making portraits was on his subjects’ posture, face and appearance.
In around 1863, Le Géant, a huge balloon was built by Nadar. At first, the project was not successful but Nadar knew that the future will belong to flying machines, so he made it work. Nadar then became the president of The Society for Encouragement of Aerial Locomotion by Means of Heavier than Air Machines (a rather long name and no abbreviation).
In September 1864, Nadar visited Brussels in his giant balloon and it was him who invented the idea of ‘crowd control barriers’ in order to keep the crowd at distance for safety reasons.
At first he installed a darkroom in his apartment in Paris, but later he made his own photo studio which he at first asked his brother Adrien to manage but when he failed, Nadar took control and made it a successful investment.
In 1874, the photo studio was lent to a group of painters, hence the impressionist exhibition was achievable. Victor Hugo, French poet and novelist, was photographed on his deathbed in 1885 by Nadar. A year later he conducted a photo interview of Michel Eugène Chevruel, a famous chemist.
Nadar photographed celebrities and famous people of his time, such as George sand (author), Sarah Bernhardt (actress), Nasser al-Din Shah Qajar (Persian King), Charles Pierre Baudelaire (art critic), Georges Ernest Jean-Marie Boulanger (French politician and general) and many more.
Nadar died at the age of 89 in 1910 . He is buried in Paris.