Skip to main content

Bayard, the "forgotten pioneer"

[Windmills, Montmartre], 1839
Hippolyte Bayard (French, 1801–1887)
Direct positive print

3 3/8 x 3 15/16 in. (8.5 x 10 cm)
Gilman Collection, Gift of The Howard Gilman Foundation, 2005 (2005.100.32)
source: Metmuseum 

Hippolyte Bayard
French, 1847
Salt print
6 1/2 x 4 13/16 in.

source: Getty

Hippolyte Bayard: Self-Portrait as a Drowned Man, 1840
(Direct Positive Print) 1840

Hippolyte Bayard’s (20 January 1807 – 14 May 1887) role as a pioneer of photography, both as a photographer and as inventor, was overshadowed by Daguerre’ s support by the scientific establishment of his time and by the French government’s monetary rewards for his public disclosure of the Daguerreotype process.  Bayard’s commentary of “protest” on his situation as a “forgotten” photographer and pioneer of photography is expressed in one of his most famous and intriguing images the Self-portrait as a drowned man - drowned by indifference and neglect, as he writes to explain the photograph:

“The corpse which you see here is that of M. Bayard, inventor of the process that has just been shown to you. As far as I know this indefatigable experimenter has been occupied for about three years with his discovery. The Government, which has been only too generous to Monsieur Daguerre, has said it can do nothing for Monsieur Bayard, and the poor wretch has drowned himself. Oh the vagaries of human life....! ... He has been at the morgue for several days, and no-one has recognized or claimed him. Ladies and gentlemen, you'd better pass along for fear of offending your sense of smell, for as you can observe, the face and hands of the gentleman are beginning to decay.”

The visible world and the act of seeing are the focus of pioneer photographers such as Talbot and Bayard, as Ian Jeffrey observes (1). And yet, a self-conscious grasp of the structures of vision and, therefore, a representation that emphasizes the organization of the visible field: masses, forms, contrasts, the materiality of surfaces and forms as well as their transformations by and into lights and shadows, differentiates the work of the Frenchman from the British inventor.

At least in the sense that Bayard’s photographs present, in a way, a more coherent approach or perhaps we should say, a more deliberate or persistent pursuit of effects or types of vision that Talbot is also able to create and recreate in some of his best works. However, in the multiplicity of interests and subjects (as well as the various functions ascribed to photography) of the British photographer, something of the “random” or tentative experiences, doings and frame of mind proper to the inventor comes to the fore in ways that at times divert the concentration of the photographer (and the viewer) from the particular qualities and themes or concepts of photography as such.  Of course, such a consideration can in a sense be understood as purely “retrospective”, for Talbot as Bayard are explorers of a new visibility without prior standards.

And yet, if both, as Ian Jeffrey states, “exult in appearance”, and therefore "celebrate (pure) presence” they do so with somewhat different degrees of conviction, with different assertive strategies, goals and results.  As Talbot in the "Open door" (1844) explicitly refers (or "justifies" it in connection ) to Dutch painting and Baroque art , the deliberate vision of Bayard anticipates, in Ian Jeffrey' s somewhat over-emphatic characterization,  the self -conscious, analytical explorations of vision and of the visible by the Cubists (2).

Marcelo Guimarães Lima

1) Jeffrey, Ian: Photography – a concise history, London, 1981

2) Jeffrey, 1981, p. 25


Popular posts from this blog

Group f/64 Manifesto (1932)

Ansel Adams by Dorothea Lange

Group f/64 Manifesto
The name of this Group is derived from a diaphragm number of the photographic lens. It signifies to a large extent the qualities of clearness and definition of the photographic image which is an important element in the work of members of this Group.
The chief object of the Group is to present in frequent shows what it considers the best contemporary photography of the West; in addition to the showing of the work of its members, it will include prints from other photographers who evidence tendencies in their work similar to that of the Group.
Group f/64 is not pretending to cover the entire of photography or to indicate through its selection of members any deprecating opinion of the photographers who are not included in its shows. There are great number of serious workers in photography whose style and technique does not relate to the metier of the Group.
Group f/64 limits its members and invitational names to those workers who are strivin…

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)

Alexander Gardner
The home of a Rebel Sharpshooter, Gettysburg

Alexander Gardner Dead Confederate sharpshooter at the foot of Round Top.  Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July 1863. Alexander Gardner.
Richmond, Virginia. "Ruins of Gallego Mills." April 1865

The Lincoln Conspirators, 1865

Alexander Gardner, Lincoln 1865

The Daguerreotype portrait: the aesthetics of the real

The notion of what we may call an “artless art” was applied at different times, and with different intentions, to photography and the Daguerreotype. The image produced “directly” by nature, bypassing the intervention of the hand of the artist, was the object of amazement at first, and praised for its astounding fidelity of detail: an “art form” therefore that “no painter could ever match”. 
The popularization of the daguerreotype as the 19th century progressed, brought about by technical improvements allowing for the mass production of images and specially, for the first time, the mass production of portraits, produced also as a counter-current, a kind of  “over familiarity” with the daguerreotype portrait. And with it, a relative weariness about the repetitious, the unstudied, the narrowly documentary and "vulgar" or commonplace qualities (issues only partially explained by inherent  limitations of the Daguerreotype technique for portraiture, such as exposure time requiremen…