History of Photography

History of Photography

A World History of Photography

The Story Behind the Pictures 1827-1991

Photographers' Dictionary






1   Nicephore Niepce. View from the Study Window, 1827

2   Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre. Boulevard du Temple, 1838

3   Eugene Durieu/Eugene Delacroix. Nude from Behind, ca. 1853

4   Duchenne de Boulogne. Contractions musculaires, 1856

5   Auguste Rosalie Bisson. The Ascent of Mont Blanc, 1862

6   Nadar. Sarah Bernhardt, ca. 1864

7   Francois Aubert. Emperor Maximilian's Shirt, 1867

8   Andre Adolphe Eugene Disderi. Dead Communards, 1871

9   Maurice Guibert. Toulouse-Lautrec in His Studio, ca. 1894

10 Max Priester/Willy Wilcke. Bismarck on his Deathbed, 1898

11 Heinrich Zille. The Wood Gatherers, 1898

12 Alfred Stieglitz. The Steerage, 1907

13 Lewis Hine. Girl Worker in a Carolina Cotton Mill, 1908

14 August Sander. Young Farmers, 1914

15 Paul Strand. Blind Woman, 1916

16 Man Ray. Noire et blanche, 1926

17 Andre Kertesz. Meudon, 1928

18 Robert Capa. Spanish Loyalist, 1936

19 Dorothea Lange. Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1936

20 Horst P. Horst. Mainbocher Corset, 1939

21 Henri Cartier-Bresson. Germany, 1945

22 Richard Petersen. View from the Dresden City Hall Tower, 1945

23 Robert Doisneau. The Kiss in Front of City Hall, 1950

24 Dennis Stock. James Dean on Times Square, 1955

25 Bert Stern. Marilyn's Last Sitting, 1962

26 Gerard Malanga. Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground, 1966

27 Helmut Newton. They're Coming!, 1981

28 Sandy Skoglund. Revenge of the Goldfish, 1981

29 Robert Mapplethorpe. Lisa Lyon, 1982

30 Joel-Peter Witkin. Un Santo Oscuro, 1987

31 Sebastiao Salgado. Kuwait, 1991


see also:


Chapter 8




Andre Adolphe Eugene Disderi


Dead Communards

The End of a


Historians are still in disagreement: Was the Paris Commune of 1871 merely an outburst of chaos and anarchy, or was it the first proletarian revolution in history? In either case, the uprising resulted in even more casualties than the French Revolution of 1789. It was a civil war, as bloody as it was brief, in which photography defined a new field for itself.


Someone had distributed slips of paper, had given them numbers. Perhaps that is what is most shocking in this picture that breaks with taboo in two senses, consciously offending against the accepted rules of decency and morality. First, it makes the wounded, desecrated, defenseless human body into a pictorial object, and second, it subjugates suffering to a cool arithmetic. But why, one asks oneself willy-nilly, were these twelve male bodies in plain coffins made of raw spruce boards laid side by side and provided with hand-written numbers? Whoever did it could not have been following any imaginable principle. One may speculate about a coded message, but such a theory is really rather improbable. It remains astonishing that the row of numbers begins with a 'six' and ends with a 'one'; 'four' was assigned twice; 'twelve' is missing. The sum amounts to 70 - but that can hardly be significant. Literature concerning the picture has sometimes claimed that the numbers could have served for later identification of the corpses. But this, too, seems hardly plausible if one considers the fate of the men: anonymous members of the Commune, presumably arrested after 21 May 1871, shot by unknown soldiers of the regular troops, quickly buried - but first provided with a 'portrait' beforehand. Who could have been interested in identifying them? And if someone were, then why don't the numbers follow some kind of understandable logic. Don't the physiognomies provide enough evidence on their own?

Andre-Adolphe Eugene Disderi

Communards in Their Coffins, circa 1871


Hard years for the working class


The picture is beyond a doubt a document of power-the power of the living over the dead, who can no longer remove themselves from such degrading exhibition and classification. The power of the victor over the vanquished, the bourgeoisie over the defeated proletariat. "Hard years for the amputated, debt-ridden, working class, under surveillance and suspicion -these years under Thiers and MacMahon," as Michelle Perrot describes the situation in her book Les ouvriers en greve. "Paris had lost approximately 100,000 workers: 20,000 to 30,000 had probably been killed, 40,000 imprisoned, and the rest fled..."


Shot Communards, Gernsheim Collection, The University of Texas at Austin

This picture from 1871; is also attributed to Disderi.


Mountains of bodies round the Jardin du Luxembourg


To make it clear from the beginning: we know little about this photograph, whose original is now in the possession of the Musee Carnavalet, the municipal museum of Paris. The lightly bleached-out albumin print bearing the archive entry 9951 is 8 1/4 x 11 inches in size, pasted onto grey cardboard, and was a private donation, as the handwritten remark, "Legs Hauterive," testifies. Neither does the photograph provide further in-formation on its reverse about the place and time it was taken, nor does it identify the names of the executed. Only the small stamp at the bottom right on the front puts us on the trail of the photographer: namely, Disderi. In all probability, the photograph was taken immediately after 21 May 1871, that is, during the so-called Bloody Week during which most of the revolutionaries - or men who were held to be such - were shot by Thiers's merciless troops and buried in mass graves. The location othe picture might be the Pere Lachaise Cemetery, at the time the center for the executions, or the walls around the Jardin du Luxembourg, where "mountains of bodies" were also reported. The naked torsos of the corpses one, three, four, six, and seven may be an indication that they died heroically with their chests bared. The slightly dandyish clothing of corpses two and eleven suggests that they were of the bohemian world, and in fact, there are supposed to have been an above-average number of intellectuals and artists who sympathized with the Commune. Research speaks of 1,725 members of the liberal professions who were arrested after the Bloody Week. Among them, perhaps the most prominent of them, was the painter Gustave Courbet, who miraculously survived the 'cleansing', but was fined an annual sum of 10,000 francs in the course of a sensational trial. The money was used for the reerection of the column damaged by the Commune on the Place Vendome.


Through Paris with a darkroom on wheels


Why did Andre Adolphe Eugene Disderi photograph the twelve executed Communards? Probably not from 'artistic' motives - nor because he wanted to test the limits of his medium. Disderi, born in 1819, was above all a businessman - not always a fortunate one, as Helmut Gernsheim points out, but with at least a strong commercial interest and the readiness to seek out his advantage wherever his nose led him. Although he had not invented the cartes-de-visite, as is often claimed, he had, more importantly, popularized them. It was his Paris studio that fostered the breakthrough of the aesthetically unambitious portraits that were, however, fast and cheap to produce. "In 1861," writes Gernsheim, "Disderi was already accounted the richest photographer in the world. In his Paris studio alone, he took in an 1,200,000 francs annually. This means, that at a price of twenty francs for a dozen portraits, his etablissement was serving on average 200 customers per day." Disderi, who had started as a landscape painter, fabric maker, bookkeeper, and actor, was correspondingly interested in photography as a mass medium. It was he who recognized the wish of the broad majority of the bourgeoisie for portraits, and

knew how to satisfy them. Whereas the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 was not of interest to the majority of the studio photographers of Paris (Nadar, Carjat, Reutlinger, Thiebault), Disderi rode through Paris with a darkroom on wheels, documenting war damage, photographing the destroyed Tullleries, the burned-out city hall, Thiers' house, destroyed by the Communards, and the Vendome column. After the end of the riots, he published a book with the title, Ruines de Paris et de ses environs. But our picture of the executed Communards does not appear on its pages, nor does a variant (now at the University of Texas in Austin), depicting seven Communards, this time unclothed, in their coffins. Anne McCauley suspects that Disderi was at the time commissioned by the police to record the faces of the Communards - but evidence is lacking. Later, the picture is said to have been distributed by other studios as a stolen copy, and if so, that is a clue that there was no other picture available that responded to the increased public interest. Disderi himself seems not to have commercialized the photograph. Or might it be possible that he was not the true creator of the photograph? After all, the modest stamp on the card-board only indicates that the print had at one point or another passed through Disderi's studio. "If his studio indeed made these negatives," argues McCauley,"its owner must have either been desperate for money or felt little sympathy for the Commune."

Emile Robert: Barricades in front of the Madeleine, albumin print, 1871

Franck (Francois-Marie-Louis- Alexandre Cobinet de Villecholtes): The Demolished Vendome Column


Jacobin dreams of a popular uprising


The photography of the period of the Paris Commune - a still largely un-researched field - was determined by the ideological interests of its photographers. The pictures mirrored the technical possibilities of a medium that hardly allowed instantaneous shots in the sense of today's photo-journalism. The photographs of the Commune can be fairly exactly dated between the 18 March and end of May 1871, the beginning and the bloody end of a popular proletarian revolt, whose life span as a social Utopia lasted around 70 days. The historical background is well known. The starting point, or rather, the catalyzer of the uprising was the loss of the war against Germany. The Prussians had been occupying Paris since 18 September 1870; capitulation and the conclusion of a peace seemed inevitable. In fact, the National Assembly, dominated by monarchists and clerics, which met together in Bordeaux on 12 February 1871 decided upon an immediate and unlimited peace. Paris flaunted the decision with nationalistic, chauvinistic slogans, and Jacobin dreams of a popular uprising filled the air. For the first time since 1848 red flags began to appear. On the night of 17 March, it came to armed conflict when 'regular' troops attempted to take the approximately one hundred cannons stationed on the mound of Montmarte under their control at the order of the designated prime minister Thiers. But the half-hearted raid was foiled by the rebel troops. Thiers's band was driven from the city as the rebels occupied the city hall and other public buildings. A municipal council operating out of Versailles now assumed power as a countergovernment to Thiers. Its program included such resolutions as the separation of church and state, the confiscation of property belonging to religious orders and cloisters, the official adoption of the red flag, and a law forbidding bakers to bake at night. Certainly this was no revolution in any real sense of the term, but rather a pack of Jacobin or Proudoninspired measures that would serve to solidify the later reputation of the Commune as a proletarian revolt. Already on 2 April, conflict exploded again between the followers of Thiers and the Commune. The Paris Guard behind the ubiquitous barricades understood well enough how to fight, but problems ranging from quibbles over domains of competence, to lack of leadership, military disorganization, and to dilettantism soon allowed the superiority of the regular troops to emerge clearly. On 21 May, they succeeded in overcoming the Paris defensive wall at an unguarded point. What followed has gone down in the annals of history as a "semaine sanglante" - a week of denunciations, persecutions, mass executions, and merciless terror such as had not been seen since the Revolution of 1789 (with its 12,000 casualties throughout the entire nation). The estimates for 1871 range between 20,000 and 40,000 Communards killed or executed. We have more precise numbers on the losses at Versailles: official records counted almost 900 dead and 7,000 wounded.

The Commune was a time of many photographs - and few. Many if one looks at the troublesomeness of the then standard wetcollodion process, in which a plate had to be sensitized and developed on location; few, if one considers the number of photographers then active in Paris. Gernsheim speaks of 33,000 persons in 1861 who "earned their living by photography or in businesses that served it." Ten years later, the number certainly would not have been less. But those who remained seem, as Jean-Claude Gautrand has expressed it, to have exchanged "the velvet of the studios" for the street rather unwillingly. The only photographers who stand out for larger collections of pictures are in fact Alphonse Liebert, Hippolyte-Auguste Collard, Eugene Appert, and Bruno Braquehais, whose series of a total of 109 photographs were dutifully handed over to the Bibliotheque nationale in late 1871 and represent the most remarkable contribution to Commune photography.

Photo report in Match, June, 1939: 70 years later, the Commune still occupied the minds of the French.


Meeting of the proletariat and photography


From a Marxist perspective on art history, the photography of the Commune has at times been evaluated as the predecessor of the later development of working-class photography. The days of the Commune had, according to Richard Hiepe, brought about "the first meeting of the proletariat and photography" - which can at most apply to the early pictures of the barricades with posing Communards, although it bears emphasis that those taking the photographs were and remained members of the bourgeoisie. In no sense does the term "proletarian photography" apply to the large majority of the pictures, which range from the innumerable views of war-ravaged Paris (and express a clearly critical position toward the Commune) through to the tendentious photomontages of an Eugene Appert, or to his photographic inventory of the approximately 40,000 imprisoned Communards, which constitutes an early form of the information-gathering approach to photography later refined by Alphonse Bertillon. What is missing, surprisingly enough, between the pictures of the barricades and the ruins, are photographs of the dead; as if they never existed, the twenty to thirty thousand victims left hardly a trace on the photographic plates. For photography, as Christine Lapostolle rightly claims, "there was no semaine sanglante, and as a result, no painful pictorial return ofthe wounded and dead after the battles before the gates of Paris. Nothing of the misery that tortured the people remained to be seen." Even if there were one or another picture of victims in addition to Disderi's images of the dead Communards, quantitatively and qualitat-ively the 'proceeds' would be comparatively modest. And thus it is no accident that precisely this photograph has been able to attain symbolic status in the course of time. Whether Disderi himself took the photograph or not, this status will not disappear. What is important that the photograph has become an icon, a pictorial metaphor for the end of a short utopia.

Andre-Adolphe Eugene Disderi
Portrait of Mery Laurent

Andre-Adolphe Eugene Disderi (French Photographer, 1819-1889)

Born 1819 in Paris. First dedicates himself to painting and theatre. 1847 turns to photography. Initially active in Marseille, Brest, Nimes. 1854 sets up a studio in Paris. In the same year files a patent for a fast and reasonably priced form of portrait (known as carte de visits). 1855 founding of the Societedu Palais de Industrie. 1860-62 portraits of prominent contemporaries for a Calerie des contemporams. Branches in Nice, Madrid and London. 1871 takes photos during the Commune. 1877 sells his business. Moves to Nice 1889 returns to Paris. 1889 dies in the Paris Hopital Sante-Anne, deaf, blind and totally impoverished.

Andre-Adolphe Eugene Disderi
Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux




Andre-Adolphe Eugene Disderi

Uncut print from a carte-de-visite negative by André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri, c. 1860;
in the George Eastman House Collection, Rochester, New York.


Andre-Adolphe Eugene Disderi


Andre-Adolphe Eugene Disderi
Mr. Laurence and Son Vaccarino



Andre-Adolphe Eugene Disderi
The Richie children, 1862



Andre-Adolphe Eugene Disderi
The De Montal Boy with a Rifle



Andre-Adolphe Eugene Disderi
Mademoiselle d'Espinassy



Andre-Adolphe Eugene Disderi
Young Girl and Toys


Andre-Adolphe Eugene Disderi
Armor and Weapons



Andre-Adolphe Eugene Disderi
Man Sitting in a Gazebo


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