On December 17, the French Institute of Azerbaijan and the Azerbaijan National Museum of Art organized a photo exhibition entitled “Mysterious Journey to Baku” featuring photographs by Paul and Felix Nadar. VarYox was also invited to the opening ceremony. The exhibition will last until February 15, 2022. These photographs, taken from the original negatives of the Architecture and Heritage Multimedia Library under the French Ministry of Culture, are on display in Azerbaijan for the first time. The curator of the exhibition is Konul Rafiyeva.
Who was Paul Nadar?
Paul Nadar was born in 1856 in Paris to Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, nicknamed Nadar, and his wife, Ernestine Lefèvre. His mother was a simple Protestant middle-class girl from Normandy, and his father was a well-known photographer – from the anarchist philosopher Peter Kropotkin to the Brazilian emperor Pedro II, the author of a wide range of photographs. Because his father made Nadar a brand, he did not allow his younger brother Adrien to use this nickname. Adrien’s success at the World’s Fair in 1855 was unexpected for Felix. The feud between the brothers, who went to court in 1857, ended in 1860 with the death of their mother, Thérèse Maillet. Adrien went bankrupt, and Nadar bought everything in his brother’s studio – cameras, frames, etc.
Paul studied at various schools in Paris from 1863 to 1869, and at Bonaparte Lyceum from 1869 to 1870. From 1874 to 1876 he served in the army in his mother’s hometown of Rouen. As a member of the photographer’s family after his education and military service, Paul also focused on photography in his career. In 1874, he began working in his father’s studio, and Felix ended his active photography life by retiring to his house in the Sénart forest. Despite this, he continued to write essays and memoirs. Unlike his father, the Younger Nadar made more vivid portraits and different experiments instead of serious portraits and solemn faces. That is why Paul, who had a difficult relationship with his father, wanted to get out of his shadow. The father and son even argued over the location of the stand at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1889.
In 1890, he decided to leave France for the World Exhibition in Tashkent and photograph the sights and moments he saw along the way. To do this, Nadar, bought the equipment from Kodak, traveled to Istanbul by train. Then Nadar sails to Batumi, from there to Tbilisi and Baku, and crosses the Caspian Sea to modern-day Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Returning from this trip two months later with 1,200 photos, Nadar’s photo report was a first in European history. For this success, Kodak elected him an official agent in 1893. The following year, Nadar married Elisabeth Marie Degrandi, a French soprano whom she met in 1882.
After that, Nadar became interested in “moving pictures”, ie film directing. In 1896, together with chemist Eugène Defez, he applied for a patent for a camera / projector that would use a 35 mm tape. Although he exhibited his invention at the Optical Theater in 1897, the jury did not approve of his invention, saying it was too noisy. Despite this, he made 11 films with a total of 18 minutes. Although Nadar later invented a 58 mm camera, no film was made with this camera.
Nadar was elected the first president of the French Congress of Professional Photographers in 1900 and later continued to receive medals, positions and awards. He lost his uncle in 1903 and received permission from his father to continue his pseudonym, losing his mother in 1909 and his father in 1910, thus becoming the official owner of the photo studio. After these losses, a daughter named Marthe was born in 1912. Nadar carried this pseudonym until his death in 1939. Nadar’s daughter died in 1948. Nadar’s last surviving family member, his widow, donated the entire archive to the French government in 1950.
Photos from the opening of the exhibition are courtesy of Ingrid Ponsy.