Nadar: the story of a photography pioneer

Last year the Bibliothèque nationale de France organised Les Nadar, un légende photographique, an exhibition on this family of photographers (accompanying catalogue: S950.b.201.5289 featuring Paul Nadar’s portrait of Sarah Bernhardt on the cover). The most important of these was Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, photography pioneer, freelance writer and caricaturist, known by his pseudonym, Nadar. In addition, his son Paul and his half-brother Adrien Tournachon were gifted photographers.

Caricature of F. Nadar in La lune, 1867, 2015.8.2833

Félix Nadar was born in 1820 into a family of printers and booksellers in Lyon. From a young age he was an admirer of Dumas, Hugo and Balzac. He started to study medicine in Lyon but once his father died in 1837, he had to quit and moved to Paris. There he started his career as writer and caricaturist, collaborating in some journals. He frequented the Parisian bohemian scene in the Latin Quarter; where he met important writers, such as Dumas (father), Balzac, Gérard de Nerval, Théophile Gautier, Charles Baudelaire, George Sand, Alfred de Vigny, the Goncourt brothers… Nadar was part of “the water drinkers”, the bohemian circle of Henry Murguer. Félix was well connected and maintained his links with these friends later on. Continue reading

Dutch woodcarving saved by the camera

De koorbanken van Oirschot en Aarschot: gezien door de lens van Hans Sibbelee en Jan Verspaandonk is a book that caught my eye recently, with its many beautiful black and white photos. It looks in detail at the medieval carved choir stalls of two churches, one in Oirschot in the south of the Netherlands and one in Aarschot in Belgium. What makes them especially interesting is that those in Oirschot were destroyed during World War Two and we are only able to see them thanks to photographs that were fortuitously taken in 1943. Continue reading

Serbia’s Great War in photographs : the May 2017 Slavonic item of the month

The Kingdom of Serbia’s involvement in the First World War saw a proportional loss of life which far outstripped that of the other Allies.  Ratni album (War album), published in Belgrade in 1926, commemorates the war with both reverence and realism.  From photographic portraits of victorious generals to pictures of the combatant and civilian dead, this extraordinary volume captures it all.

The front cover, with a standard ruler along the left to provide scale.  Close-ups of some details of the cover are provided at the end of this post.

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Photography in the GDR


Geschlossene Gesellschaft (S950.b.201.2929)

One of the probably less known areas which we collect is photography in the GDR. Cambridge University Library thus has a substantial collection on the topic. One publisher is particularly active in that field, called Lehmstedt Verlag, and we have a substantial number of their publications on the topic. However, there is of course a variety of publishers from which we acquire such material. Our collections include various academic books about the topic that can be borrowed, although a lot of the material we acquire is heavily illustrated and/or an exhibition catalogue and therefore cannot be taken out of the building. A few of those books recently caught my attention as they crossed my desk:

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Photography in the Portuguese colonies (1860-1960)

Cambridge University Library has recently acquired a copy of O império da visão: fotografia no contexto colonial português (1860-1960), a volume organised by Dr. Filipa Lowndes Vicente, researcher at the Instituto de Ciências Sociais (ICS) of the University of Lisbon.

Dr. Vicente’s interest in photography started while researching Portuguese and British colonial India. Since its development in the second half of the nineteenth century, photography became a major form of visual communication and a powerful agent of social change. Recent research has shown that the study of colonialism requires photography to illustrate written sources. In the nineteenth century, photography helped increase the visibility of the colonies abroad. Continue reading