History of Photography

History of Photography

A World History of Photography

The Story Behind the Pictures 1827-1991

Photographers' Dictionary





1   Nicephore Niepce. View from the Study Window, 1827

2   Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre. Boulevard du Temple, 1838

3   Eugene Durieu/Eugene Delacroix. Nude from Behind, ca. 1853

4   Duchenne de Boulogne. Contractions musculaires, 1856

5   Auguste Rosalie Bisson. The Ascent of Mont Blanc, 1862

6   Nadar. Sarah Bernhardt, ca. 1864

7   Francois Aubert. Emperor Maximilian's Shirt, 1867

8   Andre Adolphe Eugene Disderi. Dead Communards, 1871

9   Maurice Guibert. Toulouse-Lautrec in His Studio, ca. 1894

10 Max Priester/Willy Wilcke. Bismarck on his Deathbed, 1898

11 Heinrich Zille. The Wood Gatherers, 1898

12 Alfred Stieglitz. The Steerage, 1907

13 Lewis Hine. Girl Worker in a Carolina Cotton Mill, 1908

14 August Sander. Young Farmers, 1914

15 Paul Strand. Blind Woman, 1916

16 Man Ray. Noire et blanche, 1926

17 Andre Kertesz. Meudon, 1928

18 Robert Capa. Spanish Loyalist, 1936

19 Dorothea Lange. Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1936

20 Horst P. Horst. Mainbocher Corset, 1939

21 Henri Cartier-Bresson. Germany, 1945

22 Richard Petersen. View from the Dresden City Hall Tower, 1945

23 Robert Doisneau. The Kiss in Front of City Hall, 1950

24 Dennis Stock. James Dean on Times Square, 1955

25 Bert Stern. Marilyn's Last Sitting, 1962

26 Gerard Malanga. Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground, 1966

27 Helmut Newton. They're Coming!, 1981

28 Sandy Skoglund. Revenge of the Goldfish, 1981

29 Robert Mapplethorpe. Lisa Lyon, 1982

30 Joel-Peter Witkin. Un Santo Oscuro, 1987

31 Sebastiao Salgado. Kuwait, 1991


see also:

Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne

Chapter 4





Duchenne de Boulogne


Contractions musculaires

A Grammar of


The French medical doctor Guillaume Duchenne de Boulogne may not have been the first to seek and discover applications for the new pictorial medium in the realm of medicine. But, unlike his predecessors, he had a conceptual grasp of the medium and moreover sought to establish a bridge to the fine arts.


Why is he looking at us? Why must he peer into the camera like that? Wouldn't Dr. Duchenne de Boulogne, here left in the picture, not have been better advised to concentrate on the subject of his experiment? To take care that the two electrodes maintain their contact, and thus produce the desired effect. It is of course possible that an operator in the foreground is giving him directions, but that would be possible also without eye contact, especially since this is not the first photograph that has been produced according to a certain plan and on the basis of pre-formulated guidelines. Nonetheless, this is the sole exemplar from the almost one hundred photographs of the cycle in which Dr. Duchenne is wearing this unique cap that hides his 'high forehead'. "Look at me," his face seems to say, with a trace of some amount of vanity. "Here I am: Dr. Guil-laume-Benjamin-Amand Duchenne, known as Duchenne de Boulogne, medical doctor, scientist, member of the Societe de medecine in Paris, specialist in the field of electrophysiology, and at this moment, conducting precisely the experiment with which I hope to change both the history of medicine and of photography."

In 1856, the year in which the photograph was supposedly taken, the technical processes of photography had already been in use for around a decade and a half. The age of the daguerreotype and the calotype was drawing to an end. With his wet-collodion process, the Briton Frederick Scott Archer had given the photographic world not only a more sharply defined process based on glass negatives, but also a technology which was twenty times more sensitive to light than the earlier processes. Instant-aneous photographs now became at least theoretically possible. Photography was being applied to more and more fields. The positivist notion of inventorying the world by means of the purely 'objective' medium of photography seemed to have taken a bold and irrevocable step forward. Photography appeared to be useful in all possible areas of life - becoming the medium of seduction in nude photography, of memory in the por-trait, of inventories in ethnic studies, of reflection in death portraits, and of identification in criminal photography, to mention just a few of the ways in which photography was being applied specifically to the human body.

It was bound to be only a matter of time before the medical sciences also would take up the medium. And in fact, Duchenne de Boulogne, born in 1806, was not the first to place photography at the service of medical research. In 1844 Leon Foucault had succeeded in making daguerreo-types of human blood corpuscles. But this early exploratory attempt -moreover by means of a process whose results consisted of one-of-a-kind, saucer-sized reflecting plates - was hardly suitable for conveying the desired knowledge in a comprehensible manner. Moreover, doctors were divided over the use of photography as a pictorial medium. For a long period, many medical experts held that the traditional kind of illustration that had been in use since the Renaissance was preferable to photography because it allowed the presentation of finer distinctions and hierarchies. From this standpoint, Duchenne de Boulogne, although not the first medically trained photographer, was nonetheless the first modern doctor to use photography scientifically, in that he worked conceptually; in other words, he arranged his subjects with a view toward the medium. De Boulogne thought beyond the successful individual picture in terms of the larger connections. He thus reflected the communicative function of photography, and last but not least, he understood and accepted the medium on its own terms, including the principles of trimming, perspective, and light. In fact, his welt-composed scenes and subtly illuminated pictures provide far more than merely an early visualization of certain bodily phenomena for purposes of study. Not only do his physiognomies au repos pass for excellent portraits, but also his experimental pictures evoke nothing less than amazement, even today, a hundred and fifty years later. One cannot help but wonder what was really going on here.

Duchenne de Boulogne (1806-1875)
Contractions musculaires

Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne and assistant electrically stimulate the face of a live subject in displaying an expression.


Art of reading character from facial features

Duchenne de Boulogne began his experiments, which were rooted in a combination of anatomy, physiology, psychology, and art, in the early 1850s. The way had already been pointed out by the writings of Lavater, whose Essai sur la physiognomie (1781-1803) - a much respected piece in its age, and praised by Goethe - described the art of reading character from facial features. In the realm of art, character typologies had existed since the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and were a part of the standard program in academic instruction, as is evident from painters such as Charles Le Brun and Henry Testelin. The technical basis of de Boulogne's work lay in the discoveries of Luigi Galvani, who was the first to prove the existence of electrical currents in muscles, and also in the work of Michael Faraday, whose discoveries in the area of electromagnetic induction (1831) proved directly beneficial to Boulogne's experi-ments. It is highly unlikely, however, that Duchenne de Boulogne would have been familiar with the anatomical studies and drawings of Leonardo da Vinci residing in the library of Windsor Castle (these would become available to the broader public only later through the carefully prepared edition of Theodore Sabachnikoff ) manoscritti di Leonardo da Vinci della Reaie Biblioteca di Windsor (1898).

Duchenne de Boulogne (1806-1875)

Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne and assistant electrically stimulate the face of a live subject in displaying an expression.

A slight anesthesia in the region of the head

Joy and fear, wonder and disappointment, horror and amusement -these constitute fundamental human states of being that communicate themselves in a universally understandable manner through facial expressions. The impulses behind these expressions are provoked by certain muscles. If one stimulates these muscles systematically, one after the other, then one should be able to produce a kind of grammar of the feelings, an atlas of the emotions - thus Duchenne's hypothesis. Beginning in 1852, five volunteers stood available to the doctor as guinea pigs: two women, one younger, one older; a young anatomy student named Jules Talrich (who was also able to mime feelings without induction current); an alcoholic worker; and, as the central figure in the series of experiments, a former shoemaker, whom Duchenne himself described as "old and ugly." The man was furthermore intellectually handicapped and suffered under a slight 'anesthesia', or lack of feeling, of the head, a condition which presumably helped to make the application of electric current painless. According to Duchenne, he selected the man as a subject because the age wrinkles in his face responded well to the effects of the current, and thus provided especially clear delineation of facial expressions. The man's gauntness additionally increased the clarity of the facial creases and made the precise points for the placement of the electrodes easier.

Between two and four electrodes were used to stimulate the muscles, the source of the electric current being a generator (today in the Parisian Musee d'histoire de la medecine), which we may imagine to be located to the lower left, just outside the frame of the photograph. Duchenne's experiments, which are looked at askance by experts, are one thing; their photographic documentation, however, is another issue. Might Duchenne have been inspired to his efforts by the experiments of his colleague H. W. Diamond, who daguerreotyped mentally ill patients in British asylums? Probably not. What is certain, is that beginning in 1852 Duchenne sought the advice of respected photographers in Paris, possibly including Gustave Le Gray, Alphonse Poitevin, and even Louis Pierson.He certainly had contact with Nadar's younger brother, Adrien Tournachon.

Duchenne de Boulogne (1806-1875)

Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne and assistant electrically stimulate the face of a live subject in displaying an expression.


The advancement of science

Tournachon had studied medicine for a while and might therefore have already been acquainted with the doctor. We may suppose that the young man introduced Duchenne to the technology of photography; but what is certain is that the younger Tournachon photographed some of the motifs - otherwise why would the stamp 'Nadar Jne' appear on eleven prints in the Archives nationales? Beyond this, Duchenne claimed sole authorship for most of the photographs; "I myself," he wrote in the second edition of his Mecanisme, "have produced the majority of the seventy-two pictorial examples in the scientific portion of the work, or was at least present [as they were made]." Proof of the claim exists also in the clearly visible (also evident in our photograph) black fingernails, revealing the ugly, but unavoidable, evidence of the professional photographer in the age of the wet-collodion process. Duchenne described the method of exposure: "The light was so placed that the creases stimulated by the electric impulse would be defined as clearly as possible... An assistant sensitized the plate with wet collodion. Before placing it in the camera, the photographer, with the help of the assistant, attempted to find a pose that would illustrate the subject in sharp detail, without disturbing the already sharp focus of the subject ... At an agreed sign the assist-ant opened and closed the lens. Finally, the experimenter himself did the developing." We have no information about where our motif was taken. In other photographs, Duchenne's private apartment at 33 boulevard des Italiens, where it is known that the doctor maintained a laboratoire, is recognizable. In the case of our picture, a completely neutral background provides an atmosphere at once concentrated and anonymous. The lighting indicates the direct influence of Nadar, whereas the posture of the subject, whose right hand disappears into the neck of his simple white shirt, could be read as a reference to the Second Empire, for Louis Napoleon, the nephew of Napoleon I, had dissolved the National Assembly and had taken over the government in 1851 in the course of a coup. That the ambitious emperor was particularly interested in supporting the sciences and industry is well known, and the revival of the Prix Volta for pioneering practical research in the area of electrophysics was a result of his initiative. Duchenne de Boulogne applied for the attractive prize with its award of 50,000 francs with his works on "human physiognomy" in both 1857 and 1864, but without success.

Duchenne's investigations and his photographs - including our motif, which represented the emotion 'surprise' - appeared in a work published in 1862 under the title Mecanisme de la physiognomie humaine ou analyse electrophysiologique de I'expression des passions applicable a la pratique des arts plastiques; that is, they were presented in a book whose visual and educational material was primarily directed toward artists in the fine arts. But Duchenne's pastedin albumin prints chiefly depicting a debilitated old man apparently interested the creative sector that the doctor had in mind just as little as they impressed his colleagues in the field of medicine. The book remained almost wholly without a public, a circumstance that no less a figure than Charles Darwin remarked upon in the introduction to his The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals in 1872 when he noted that Duchenne's work had either not been taken seriously by his fellow countrymen, or had been completely ignored. In fact, the first French translation of Darwin's study created a certain level of attention for Duchenne de Boulogne. In 1875, one year after the publication of the French title, the doctor died in Paris. In the context of a questionnaire a la Proust, Duchenne de Boulogne was once asked what he most liked to do. His answer: "To research." His photographically illustrated Mecanisme de la physiognomie, which straddles a bizarre line between science and art, is without a doubt the most original contribution to its field.



Duchenne de Boulogne (1806-1875)
Faradisation of the Frontal Muscle, from "Album De Photographies Pathologiques"

Duchenne de Boulogne
Faradisation of the Frontal Muscle, from "Album De Photographies Pathologiques"

Duchenne de Boulogne (1806-1875)
Physiognomical Examination

Duchenne de Boulogne (1806-1875)
Physiognomical Examination of a Woman with a Cradle




Duchenne de Boulogne
Physiognomical Studies

Duchenne de Boulogne (1806-1875)
Portrait of a hunchback boy, 1855-1857


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