In the autumn of 1854 or the winter of 1854-1855, Nadar, who had brought his young brother Adrien into his business, asked the mime Charles Deburau (1829-1873) from the Théâtre des Funambules to pose for a series of "têtes d'expression". Deburau was the son of the famous Baptiste Deburau, the model for Jean-Louis Barrault's rôle in Marcel Carné's film Les enfants du Paradis (1945).
Then, with the help of an influential friend, Félix Nadar exhibited this series of photographs at the Universal Exhibition of 1855 and won a gold medal for them. However, it was awarded not to Félix but to Adrien, who had taken his brother's professional name, calling himself Nadar jeune. This prompted a lawsuit which Félix finally won in 1857.
The portrait of Pierrot as a photographer is the first in the Deburau album. It was the perfect introduction to the series intended to promote Nadar's studio. The star is shown alongside a camera which he seems to be operating. His left hand is telling the model to look at the lens and not at him. With his right hand, he is taking out a plate.
The long tripod on this camera gives it an anthropomorphic look, and it becomes a strange stage companion to the clown. And this couple, man and machine, seems to be a reflection of Nadar, bustling around his own camera. One can imagine the plate in Pierrot's hand containing an undeveloped portrait of Nadar at work, just as the plate taken out by Nadar contains the image we see here. Thus each becomes the photographer and the model of the other. This confusion of identities is in the best tradition of the Commedia dell'arte.