The Question of Art

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1839 Paul Delaroche declared "from this day, painting is dead" in reference to the newly announced daguerreotype

Arguments against photography's artistic merits:
  • Machines cannot create art
  • Art should be grand and dramatic, not realistic
  • Photography reduced art to common materials and anyone could do it
  • Painters feared that photography would make their media obsolete
Paul Delarouche, Execution of Lady Jane Gray, 1834.











Photographs as Documents


Maxime Du Camp, The Colossus of Abu-Simbel, Nubia, 1850. Salted Paper Print.


"I had realized upon my previous travels that I wasted much valuable time trying to draw buildings and scenery I did not care to forget.  I drew slowly and not very correctly... I felt that I needed an instrument of precision to record my impressions if I was to reproduce them accurately." - Maxime Du Camp











Maxime Du Camp, The Colossus of Abu-Simbel, Nubia. 1850.
Francis Frith, The Sphinx and the Great Pyramid Geezah, 1858. Albumen print.











Mechanical Photography = a verbatim style of photography which featured maximum detail and sharpness

Great Pyramids

Frith's trademark "mechanical picturesque" approach:
  • Juxtapose human figures with giant monuments
  • Dense detail
  • Sense of mass and scale
  • Avoided expressive or dramatic effects
Francis Frith, Great Pyramids, 1862.











Mexican-American War

General Wool

1846 - 1848
  • Fought after Texas seceded from Mexico
  • Resulted in the U.S. acquiring
    California and New Mexico
  • Considered the first war to be
    photographed as it happened
  • Coincides with the rise of American newspapers
Photographer Unknown, General Wool and Staff, Calle Real, Saltillo, Mexico. c. 1847.











Photographaer Unknown, Amputation, Mexican- American War, Cerro Gordo, 1847.











Crimean War
1853 - 1856
Fought between Imperial Russia and an alliance of the United Kingdom, France and the Ottoman Empire


Roger Fenton, Railroad Yard Balaclava #2, 1855.











Roger Fenton, Soldiers taking a break, Crimea, 1855.










Roger Fenton, The 57th Regiment, 1855.











Death of General Warren

John Trumbull, The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker's Hill, June 17, 1775, 1786.












"Whatever he represents from the field must be real." - London Times


The Valley of the Shadow of Death

Roger Fenton, The Valley of the Shadow of Death, 1855.









Charles Baudelaire, On Photography

Photography had become "the refuge of failed painters with too little talent"
"I am convinced that the badly applied advances of photography, like all purely material progress for that matter, have greatly contributed to the impoverishment of French artistic genius."
"From that moment onwards, our loathsome society rushed, like Narcissus, to contemplate its trivial image on a metallic  plate.  A form of lunacy, an extraordinary fantaicism took hold of these new sun-worshippers."
Nadar, Portrait of Charles Baudelaire, 1863.











1820 - 1910


Nadar. Self-Portrait. c. 1855. Salted paperprint.


Gaspard Felix Tournachon

"Tourne a dard" = one who stings











Nadar's aim in portraiture was to find "that instant of understanding that puts you in touch with the model - helps you sum him up, guides you to his habits, his ideas, and character and enables you to produce a really convincing and sympathetic likeness, an intimate portrait." - A World History of Photography

Sarah Bernhardt

Nadar, Sarah Bernhardt, 1865. Albumen.











Sarah Bernhardt

Nadar, Sarah Bernhardt, 1865. Albumen print.

Napoleon Sarony, Sarah Bernhardt, c. 1880. Albumen print.











Nadar, Marie Laurent, 1856.
Nadar, Charles Deburau as Pierrot, 1854.











Nadar considered himself a "daredevil, always on the lookout for currents to swim against."
Nadar "elevating photography to the condition of art", 1862, Honoré Daunier. This caricature appeared in Le Boulevard on 25 May, 1862.











Nadar, Arc de Triumph and the Grand Boulevards, Paris, from a Baloon, 1868.
Nadar, The Catacombs, 1861 - 1862.


More Nadar images