Nadar was the pseudonym of Gaspard-Felix Tournachon, a French photographer that was born on the 6th of April 1820, in Paris. He was also a caricaturist, journalist, novelist and a balloonist. Tournachon, was the son of a printer and bookseller. After his father’s death, Tournachon decided to quit his medical studies for economic reasons. He started working as a caricaturist and novelist for several newspapers. He fell in love with the bohemian groups of: Gerard de Nerval, Charles Baudelaire and Theodore de Banville. His friends picked Tournadar as a nickname, which, then became Nadar.

From working as a caricaturist, he moved on to photography, especially portraits. His work was published for the first time in 1848 in Le Charivari and a year later he founded the Revue comique and the Petit journal pour rire. In 1854, he opened his photography studio in rue Saint Lazare, to then move to 25 Boulevard des Capucines, a year later, and in 1860 he moved again to 35 Boulevard des Capucines. 

Nadar photographed a wide range of personalitiesPoliticians, stage actors, writers, painters and musicians. For his portraits, he refused to use traditional decors in favour of natural daylight. Tournachon took his first photograph in 1853 and in 1858 he became the first person to have ever taken an aerial, doing this using the wet plate collodion process. He also invented a gas-proof cotton cover for balloon baskets and he also used artificial lighting in photography as he worked in the catacombs of Paris. This made him also the first person to photograph below ground.

In 1863, Nadar commissioned the balloonist Eugene Godard to construct a 60 metres high balloon that had a capacity of 6,000 metres cubed and it was named Le Geant (The Giant). This inspired Jules Verne’s Five Weeks in a Balloon novel. However, the balloon was damaged at the end of its second flight. Later, The Society for the Encouragement of Aerial Locomotion by Means of Heavier than Air Machines was established. Nadar was its president while Verne was the secretary.

Tournachon was the inspiration for the character of Micheal Ardan in Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon. In 1864 in Belgium, Nadar invented mobile barriers to keep the crowd at safe distance. They are still known as Nadar barriers. In 1870-71, Tournachon was organising balloon flights to carry the mail so that Parisians could be connected to the rest of the world. This was the world’s first airmail service. In 1874, in Nadar’s studio the first exhibition of the Impressionists was held. In 1885 he photographed Victor Hugo on his death-bed and a year later he published his first photo-interview. From 1895 to 1909 his studio was in Marseilles.

Nadar died on 1910 at the age of 89.


All the pictures in this page are by Nadar. All rights reserved to the author.

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