Musée d'Orsay: Memory of place. Landscape in "primitive" photography (1840-1870)

Memory of place. Landscape in "primitive" photography (1840-1870)


Roger FentonThe Valley of the Shadow of Death© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
Throughout the 19th century, reproducing the changing aspects of nature was a challenge for even the most experienced practitioners because of deficiencies in the technology. On the other hand, when it came to describing a location, for example landscapes crossed by railways, or landscapes that had been the scene of a natural disaster or historic battle, photography very quickly established itself as the medium for images that were unquestionably true to life.

The Crimean War and the American Civil War provided an opportunity for the great photographers like Roger Fenton and George Barnard, to draw attention to what would later become "places of memory", whereas the flooding of the Rhône in 1856, or simply the inauguration by Queen Victoria of the Northern railway line that she took to Paris on her visit to the 1855 Universal Exhibition, enabled Edouard Baldus to demonstrate his remarkable sense of drama.

In 1852, Charles Nègre, a pupil of Paul Delaroche, went back to his native Midi to photograph the architecture, beaches and landscapes with their characteristic mills. Around the same time, Victor Regnault, a scientist whose knowledge of chemistry naturally led him to take up photography, took photographs in the area around the Sèvres porcelain factory where he was director. Viscount Vigier, an amateur photographer, brought back around twenty images from his expedition in the Pyrenees. Almost all these photographers had the opportunity of presenting their work to Ernest Lacan, editor of La Lumière, a journal devoted to the technique of heliography.


Françoise Heilbrun, Françoise Heilbrun, chief curator, Musée d'Orsay

7 September - 8 November 2010
Musée d'Orsay
Salle 17

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