Nadar and the Republic of Mind

DURING THE MIDDLE OF the last century, the two best-known photographers doing business in Paris were Disdéri, who popularized the carte-de-visite, and Félix Tournachon, whose nickname, Nadar, became as familiar in his time as Kodak in ours. Portraits were the cash crop of both their studios, as for many others, because the portrait mode enjoyed artistic prestige and huge market turnover.

Let’s define a portrait as the picture of an individual or group whose character is either described by social, ethnic, and class affiliations, or may, in some measure, be invoked in contrast to them. Sometimes, in the history of the genre, the “personality” of the sitter has gained the upper hand, and sometimes, his or her status. More often, the portrait turns out to be an unpredictable composite image of both. Now, in the business milieu of the Second Empire, an important new motif got introduced into

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