Emilie Bickerton at the LRB:
‘Like the knives of Chinese jugglers’, Charles Bataille said of his friend Félix Nadar, ‘turbulent, unexpected, terrifying’. Adam Begley’s biography describes a life lived so frenetically, it’s surprising it lasted so long – Nadar died at the age of ninety, in 1910. Yet he is remembered today primarily for the stillness and serenity of his photographic portraits of 19th-century Parisian luminaries. ‘You’ve done better than I’ve ever done,’ the physician Philippe Ricord wrote in the livre d’or, an autograph book Nadar kept for clients to sign in his studio at 35 boulevard des Capucines, ‘for I’ve always found it impossible to resemble myself from one day to the next.’ This is what Nadar was interested in, the search for what he called ‘an intimate resemblance’ – an instant not merely captured, but in a way that caught something essential in his subjects.
A few pictures have come to represent Nadar’s work: Charles Baudelaire, undated, but probably between 1855 and 1862, standing in his elegant dark coat, half-unbuttoned waistcoat and bow tie, hands in pockets, staring back at the camera – defiant perhaps, but with the mouth and the eyes, which Nadar called ‘two drops of coffee’, betraying some vulnerability.