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The eccentric Baudelaire with a flamboyant black bow and an immaculate white shirt, the proud and inflexible gaze of the aged Victor Hugo and the magnetic appeal of Sarah Bernhardt in her twenties: there are few who do not know the photographic portraits of Félix Tournachon, known as Nadar, more capable than anyone else at capturing the innermost soul of his contemporaries in Paris during the second half of the 19th century.
From his birth under the Restoration to his death on the eve of the Great War, Nadar lived for nearly a century as a major public figure. This biography by Stéphanie de Saint Marc reveals the other faces of the great photographer, the embodiment of a “vital paradox with countless nuances”: the turbulent debut that shocked public opinion with the first, pioneering caricatures, contributing to the birth of popular, sensationalistic press; the sudden, rash decisions, as when he dropped everything one morning in March 1848 and marched off with the French army to help free Poland from the Russian invaders; the insatiable thirst for adventure that took him first into the heavens, photographing clouds from a hot-air balloon, and then down into the bowels of the earth, immortalizing the catacombs of Paris by means of artificial lighting; the happy-go-lucky character of a controversial artist who “was on close terms in five minutes and had eight thousand friends” but was at the same time introverted and incapable of balanced relations with those dearest to him.
“Able to conquer the air like a bird, as strong as a bull, as agile as a fish at wriggling in anywhere, as mischievous as a monkey and as proudly independent as a stag”, Nadar was all these things together, the observer and interpreter of a modernity that owes him much more than is realized.
Stéphanie de Saint Marc
300 pages, 15,5 x 23 cm
41 b/w illustrations