Hippolyte Bayard: The Silent Revolution – #100GameChangers

Hippolyte Bayard is considered one of the founding fathers of photography, he developed his passion and techniques in his spare time. A contemporary of Louis Daguerre, he independently studied photosensitive substances, inventing almost at the same time a printing process that made it possible to obtain photographic positives directly. Unfortunately, his proposal was not taken into consideration by the French Ministry of the Interior, so he decided to exhibit a series of provocative shots.

In this self-timer Bayard fakes his own suicide. On all appearances, it seems to have been taken by some public safety officer who has to document his violent death, or at most by some doctor who has to ascertain the cause of death. On the back of the photo, Bayard wrote a long text, a mixture of a handwritten suicide note and a chronicle of the event, signing his initials.

Bayard’s provocation stemmed from François Arago’s incorrect attitude. He tried to give more prominence to Daguerre’s project as he only wanted to sponsor the invention that he himself had decided to patronize. For this reason, in contrast to the positive feedback from the scientific community, Bayard’s statement became famous, claiming to have invented a procedure which made everyone shout with admiration but had not earned him a single penny.

Le Noyé, self-portrait in the figure of a drowned man

“This you see is the corpse of M. Bayard, inventor of the process you have just met. The government said they could do nothing for M. Bayard, who threw himself into the water in despair. Oh! Human inconstancy! He has been in the morgue for several days, and no one has come to acknowledge or claim him”

Hippolyte Bayard

The revolution introduced by Bayard with these shots was subsequently taken up by various artists over the decades. Photography, however fake, is the best way to tell the truth and describe reality. Using one’s own bare body allows people to express their personality and limitations. In the 1960s and 1970s, for example, the theme of corporeality was revived by Gina Pane, Giuseppe Penone and Arnulf Rainer.

The innovative aspect of Bayard’s development technique was the use of photosensitive substances to directly develop a positive photograph, in contrast to the technique developed by Daguerre, which produced a negative. The disadvantage of this processing method was the time needed to obtain the result, which is the reason why, after his first experiments with self-portraits, he focused his attention on still life and landscapes.

In addition to the invention of direct positive printing, Bayard was among the first to experiment with what was later known as combination printing. He used several negatives of photographs taken of clouds for the purpose of drawing shapes in the sky.

Bayard inaugurated photography as a means of communication. It is particularly effective because it weaves an indissoluble thread between the observer and the subject of the photo. This connection makes it impossible for the viewer to interpret nature in any other way than what it really is. However, in order to achieve the best possible result, the photographer plays a fundamental and active role as an artist of light.

Hippolyte Bayard. Self-Portrait in the Garden. c.1847 


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