A Serious Comedian: Honoré Daumier’s Critique of Photography and Modern Society

the politics of information

The caption beneath this 1862 lithograph by French caricature artist Honoré Daumier reads “Nadar elevating Photography to the height of Art.” The print comically typecasts Gaspard-Félix Tournachon (known as Nadar) as a mad scientist or absent-minded professor figure who—in his excitement to capture the perfect shot—is unwittingly about to lose his top hat. Below him, inscribed on every building in Paris, is the word “Photographie.” In many ways, this satirical depiction of one of the most prominent photographers in Paris works to capture the essence of the 19th century debate over whether or not this new medium of photography could be considered “art.” At the time this print appeared in the journal Le Boulevard, Nadar was already well known for taking the first aerial photograph of Paris four years earlier in 1858. He likewise “had a flair for showmanship, and was much in the public eye as a balloonist”…

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