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:


Chapter 5



Auguste Rosalie Bisson


The Ascent of Mont Blanc

The Architecture

 of the Alpine


The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries - the age of industry and technology - discovered nature anew. The idealized landscapes of classical painting were replaced by scenes of an environment as perceived through the analytic eyes of science, and photography came into its own as a pictorial medium suited to the needs of the age. In the new, realistic interpretation of landscape, the younger of the two Bisson brothers was a leading pioneer.


They photographed architecture - ever and again architecture. Along with Edouard-Denis Baldus, Gustave Le Gray, and Henri Le Secq, they number among the most important architectural interpreters of the nineteenth century. Their large-format photographs manifest an amazing feel for the power of light, for the modulations produced by the interplay of light and shadow. In short, the photographs ofthe Bisson brothers represent an attempt to convey the reality of architecture in the form of a two dimensional image. But what is it that lent their unpeopled topographies such clarity and artistic power? Was it the slowness of their large plates? The complexity of the photographic process? Or the atmosphere of an age capable of greater concentration than ours? After i860, at any rate, the name of the firm, "Bisson freres," was known even beyond the borders of France as a synonym for the quickly growing genre of architectural photography. But the brothers did not rest with views of the Louvre, Paris or the cathedrals of Chartres or Reims. They undertook lengthy journeys to Italy, Spain, and Germany. In Heidelberg they used a platform to achieve a new and unfamiliar view of the castle ruins; in Paris, the towers of Notre Dame offered the opportunity to formulate several views of the city from the airy heights. A panorama with the astounding dimensions of 17 3/4 x 4 1/2 inches, composed of three negatives depicting the interior of the Musee du Louvre in Paris won a positive review from the photography journal La Lumiere: one must praise the "great harmony of light, and all the fine and numerous details of this sculptural jewel," which was here "reproduced with rare harmony." For the sake of completeness, it must be noted that the brothers also produced daguerreotypes, fulfilled por¬trait contracts, photographed art works, and also placed their talents at the service of science. But most importantly, theirs were the first successful photographs o fthe peak of Mont Blanc in 1861 - an impressive achievement in terms of skill both in mountaineering and photographic technology. Their achievement not only caused much excitement at the time, but it also constituted an important contribution to the history of photography and secured the Bisson brothers a place among the six most important French photographers of the pioneer age: Bernard Mar-bot, Nadar, Negre, La Gray, Baldus, and finally, the Bisson brothers themselves, who, as "diligent pilots of a large firm," were thus also intermedi-aries between industry and art.

Two brothers: Louis Auguste, born in 1814 and Auguste Rosalie, twelve years younger. It was intended that Louis Auguste become an architect, but in fact he worked for twelve years in the Paris city administration before turning to daguerreotypy in the early 1840s -a surprising decision from today's point of view. But we must remember, at that time, the medium, still young, was a playground for any entrants into the field who could demonstrate courage, a readiness to take risks, an interest in pictures, and the spirit of an inventor. Reviewing the original professions of the early photographers, Hans Christian Adam came up with a list that included portrait painters, scientists, lithographers, and even a coal dealer. The Bissons' father, Louis Francois Bisson, was a ministerial official who painted coats-of-arms on the side, before he took up the still-young process of daguerreotypy in 1841. The family was thus from the very beginning a part of that muchcited 'daguerreotypomania' that took root in France and elsewhere after 1840. It is therefore not surprising that Auguste Rosalie also soon gave up his job as an official in the Office of Weights and Measures and turned to photography. He began with portraits, but also reproduced paintings, and gave instruction in photography. By 1849 at the latest, the two brothers were working together as partners and in 1852 they opened a joint studio, initially located at 50 rue Basse du Rempart, then at 62 rue Mazarine, and finally at 8 rue Garanciere, where they occupied a total of twelve rooms on three stories for their private and professional needs.

Although the Bisson freres, as they were officially known as a firm after 1852, were active in all the early genres of photography except the nude, their real domain remains that of architectural photography. They advertised an impressive selection of offerings, including "photographic reproductions of the most beautiful examples of architecture and sculpture of antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance." The photographs were pasted into books or albums, or alternatively were made available to the educated public in the form of original single sheets. In addition to all this, at the beginning of the 1850s, the brothers began to take an interest in landscape photography. A six-foot-long panorama of the Pavilion de I'Aar probably represents their first zenith as photographers of nature - and is said to have moved the Alsatian clothing-manufacturer Daniel Dollfus-Ausset to buy his way into the Bisson brothers' firm as a limited partner for a sum of one hundred thousand francs. Dollfus-Ausset took a lively interest in Alpine glaciers, and felt confident that in Louis August and August-Rosalie Bisson he had finally found a team who could guarantee him the photographic exploration of the mountain world. Dollfus-Ausset's affinity for the mountains heights must be understood in the context of the new understanding of nature. Beginning with Rousseau at the latest, the traditional, normative concepts of nature had begun to dissolve: the traditional image of the ideal landscape as found in literature and the fine arts was now being replaced by an empirical model. This approach had already entered the sciences, and by the time of the Napoleonic wars, had increasingly made its way into the military. It is no accident that fields such as geology, geodesy, and geomorphology blossomed for the first time precisely during these years of increasing nationalism and imperialism.

Auguste-Rosalie Bisson
(1826 - 1900)
Ascent of Mont-Blanc (via a crevice), albumin print, 1862


Photography in the cold, thin mountain air


Even before establishing his connection with the Bisson brothers, Daniel Dollfus-Ausset had already spurred other photographers on to make pictures of the high ranges of the mountains. Thus, Jean Gustave Dardel was the first to succeed in taking photographs of the Alpine landscape, producing approximately a dozen pictures in 1849. Similarly on the initiative of Dollfus-Ausset, Camille Bernabe made daguerreotypes of several Alpine glaciers and peaks in August 1850. The midpoint of the century also found other photographers such as Friedrich von Martens, Aime Civiale, Edouard-Denis Baldus, and the Ferrier brothers at work in the mountains. Although Auguste Rosalie Bisson was not the first to set up his camera in the high Alpine ranges, he was the first photographer to succeed in conquering the heights of Mont Blanc. Furthermore, unlike the majority of the photographers cited above, he employed the more modern, albeit more complex, wet-collodion process, which, it must be added, had not yet been tested under the extreme weather conditions of the mountain heights. What he brought back from his successful expeditions of 1861 and 1862 was more than a mere 'I-was-there' variety of proof: Auguste Rosalie Bisson's large-format negatives and prints also conform to the highest aesthetic standards.

In August 1859, Auguste Rosalie Bisson started his first attempt to ascend to the peak of Mont Blanc. It is difficult for us today to imagine the difficulty of such an undertaking. In the first place, in 1850 mountain climbing was still in its infancy, the equipment of the mountain climbers had not yet been perfected, and the participants as a rule were insufficiently trained. But even without all this, Mont Blanc represents a particularly dangerous and moody peak, which had been first conquered only in 1786, and significantly bore the nickname montagne maudite, or 'damned mountain'. Furthermore, the challenge facing the younger Bisson was not merely to reach the nearly sixteen-thousand-foot peak, he also wanted to take photographs there - specifically using the wet-collodion process that was as yet untested in the thin mountain air and extremely cold temperatures.

The collodion process, announced in 1851 by the Englishman Frederick Scott Archer, was the most complex of all the early black-and-white photographic processes, calling for a glass plate as the vehicle for the photo-graphic layer. The use of the glass plate offered the advantages of considerably increased light sensitivity and a more brilliant and precise image. The disadvantage lay in the no fewer than eighteen various steps that the process required, from the sensitizing the plate with a fluid mixture of ether alcohol, collodion, iodine and bromide salts, through the exposure of the plate in the camera, and ending in the development and fixing of the negative. Because the plates had to be exposed while still wet, a traveling photographer had to carry along - in addition to the camera, tripod, glass plates and chemicals - a complete darkroom tent. In reality, no fewer than twenty-five men accompanied Auguste Rosalie Bisson on his excursion; in addition to the necessary porters, there were also experienced mountain guides such as Mugnier and Balmat.

Auguste-Rosalie Bisson (1826 - 1900)
Ascent of Mont-Blanc


Milestones of early photography


On 16 August 1859, the party set out from Chamonix. Initially, the weather looked promising, but worsened considerably in the course of the day. A hut on the glacial lake served as their quarters for the night. Now it started to snow and the temperature sank to ten degrees Fahrenheit; nonetheless, Bisson and four guides reached the final rock face before the summit on the next day. Buffeting winds and whirling snow prevented the final ascent, however, and taking photographs was out of the question. Thus the first attempt was given up without result. A year later, on 26-27 July 1860, a second attempt also resulted in Bisson's retreat from the peak without pictures. It was not until the third try on 24 July 1861 that the photographer finally succeeded in climbing "the giant among mountains with his equipment," as La Lumiere commented with admiration. Once again, the weather seemed favorable. The group set off from Chamonix on the morning of 22 July. By evening they reached the Grand Moulets at a height of more than ten thousand feet. They rested for an hour, and reached the great plateau around six o'clock in the morning. Proceeding to the Petits Moulets at a height of more than fifteen thousand five hundred feet, the group was greeted with storm winds and snow, and was forced to turn back. Some of the men began to give out; they were sent back to Chamonix, and replacements were sent up. Toward midnight of the second day, they set off again, finally attaining the peak at morning. "The tent was erected," as described in a contemporary report, "the camera placed on the stand, the plate coated and sensitized, exposed, and the view was taken. And what a view! What a panorama! As the picture was being developed, there was no water at hand to rinse it. It was assumed one could melt snow with the lamps, but in this atmosphere, the lamps burned only with a very small flame... One man was

Auguste-Rosalie Bisson (1826 - 1900)
Ascent of Mont-Blanc


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