Nadar, Felix (actual name was Gaspard-Felix Tournachon)

French (1820-1910)


Felix Nadar was quite the colorful character, beginning with the assumed name under which he photographed. Born Gaspard-Felix Tournachon, he was a newspaper caricaturist by trade who gradually gained notoriety for his photographic portrait work. While other photographers were producing stiff, formal portraits, Nadar became recognized by his relaxed tone toward his subjects and his skill in using a variety of techniques to capture personality. Dramatic lighting, atypical poses, close-ups of the face and significantly larger negatives: all of these manipulations allowed him to heighten and highlight specific character traits, producing portraits not unlike his caricatures. Clients would flock to his studio to have their portrait taken – drawn in by the red paint he’d applied to the entire outside of the building, along with 50-foot letters spelling out his name along the side.

Beyond his portraits, Nadar made several important contributions to the world of photography. As an avid hot air balloonist (along with his friend, novelist Jules Verne), Nadar was a pioneer in the world of aerial photography – until an unfortunate accident in his large balloon, Le Geant, made him an advocate of other forms of air transport. He also made some important forays into the use of artificial lighting during an expose on the Parisian sewers. Today, he is remembered through the Prix Nadar, a prestigious annual award given for a photography book published in France.