The composite Enigma of Nadar

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In the Nadar archives at tlie Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris there exists a set of portraits of ‘lec frères Reclus’, (the brothers Élie, Éliee, Onésime, Armand and Paul), taken in teh mid-1800s by Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, known universally as Nadar (1820–1910). At different times from the early 1870s to the 1890s, the individual brothers were photographed by Nadar. In 1885, however, all five brothers were in the studio at the same time. On this occasion Nadar took three sets of images: individual portraits against a plain backdrop: a group photograph with all five brothers standing in front of a painted scene; and two composite portraits of the five brothers. These composite portraits, overlooked in scholarship on Nadar's work, invite a number of interpretations that throw new light on the photograplier and on his relatioinship with intellectials. My purpose, however, is not simply to demonstrate that Nadar's foray into composite imaging is a response to comtemiporary scientific theories related to eugenics and typologies (which in part it is), but to argue that these unusual images in his repertoire to reveal an attempt by the photographer to express both his fraternal love for the brothers and his sympathy for a cluster of socio-political beliefs espoused by the two older brothers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)205-221
Number of pages17
JournalHistory of Photography
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2003
Externally publishedYes

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