You loved The Day after Tommorow ? Do not miss Public Eye, the first-ever retrospective survey of photography organized by NYPL in its celebrated historic location at 42nd street and 5th avenue.
This show, curated by Stephen Pinson takes advantage of this moment to reframe the way we look at photographs from the past… To what ends has the street served as a venue for photographic practice since its beginnings ? And, of more recent concern, are we risking our privacy in pursuit of a more public photography ?
A beautiful mint copy of Talbot’s Pencil of Nature, with a dedication to Hippolyte Fizeau… Ranging from photography’s official announcement in 1839 to manifestations of its current pervasiveness, this landmark exhibition, drawn entirely from the Library’s collections, explores the various ways in which photography has been shared and made public. Photography has always been social.
The show had 150.000 visitors and rather than being closed now will be prolonged until the end of this year.
Niepce, Doguerre or Talbor ? ENGLISH TRANSLATION BY SUSY FIRTH :
“Photography was about to make its appearance on the world’s stage, although it did not yet bear the name of photography.
For some time now, the public had been closely following the work of research chemists and opticians, who in various countries had been trying to find a simple but effective method of reproducing faces and landscapes. The shop windows of the Palais-Royal put the latest drawing machines on display, the mysterious camera obscura and the elegant camera lucida with its long articulated arm. At the beginning of January 1839, the French newspapers announced that the eagerly awaited new invention was finally ready, and was of such a particular nature that a grand ceremony was going to be held in which scholars, artists and the Nation’s leaders would come together to celebrate the universal significance of the new invention. There would be no favouritism towards captains of industry, no legal or administrative barriers to slow down production, and this marvel, which would come to be called photography would soon be given, in the name of France to the whole of Humanity.
To be precise, the government had decided in a spirit of longstanding cordial rivalry, to give the secret to the whole world, except for England, a country very pernickety about patents, and sceptical about the ostensible paternity of the invention. The French inventors would of course be celebrated and decorated for this generosity. Rarely has a gift given so much pleasure and for so long.
Perhaps the quickest to appreciate it was a certain Joseph Hamel…”
Accés au texte français publié six mois plus tôt :
Texte complet :
A review was published in the iphotocentral Newsletter :
NIEPCE, DAGUERRE OR TALBOT? THE QUEST OF JOSEPH HAMEL TO FIND
THE REAL INVENTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY. English translation by Suzy Firth.
History is slippery in the best of circumstances, but in looking backward to the wwatershed year of 1839, when photography emerged amidst the smoke and
steam of the Industrial Revolution, the view is hazy at best. Who invented
the medium? The great names attached to the beginnings of photography are
familiar enough–mainly Louis-Jacques-Mandy Daguerre and William Henry Fox
Talbot–but this short investigative essay by Serge Plantureux adds the
story of Joseph Hamel to the historic mix. It describes how Hamel sought the
truth in the course of seeking advantage for Mother Russia, and came to view
the French “heliographer” Joseph Nicephore Niepce as the medium’s true
Indeed, this pleasing curiosity of a book was first published last year in
French, but it comes to us now in an English translation. Firth’s task could
not have been easy, for Plantureux’s verbal style seems sprawling and
informal, and some further proofing would have caught several typographical
errors, but the information is compelling. If nothing else, it limns a
portrait of a man who may well have been the world’s first industrial spy,
sent to the West in the early 1800s by Russian Tsar Nicholas I to keep the
Motherland abreast of the surging technological developments of France and
As the Tsar’s man, Hamel–who was born of German colonists along the river
Volga–was a distinguished presence, well-schooled in the sciences and an
earnest observer of everything from new educational systems to the emergence
of the telegraph and new methods of electrolysis. While his European hosts
happily opened their cultures to him, he kept the Tsar up to date on various
breakthroughs, so that by 1839 he was nicely positioned to play a role in
bringing photography to Russia.
At this point in the narrative, Plantureux gets a little overwhelmed by the
tide of historical cross-currents that place the likes of Talbot, Daguerre,
and Niepce at the generative heart of the medium. While the verifiable truth
seems a bit murky, it becomes clear to us that the invention of photography,
like most technological breakthroughs, was more a shared achievement than a Promethean bestowal of fire by any one man. Daguerre, for example, is
depicted as the great showman and entrepreneur who knew the value of
contracting with Niepce, whose “heliographs” were important early steps in
developing the process. Talbot, of course, was refining techniques in his
Hamel, viewing Niepce as the true inventor of the medium, grew close with
the Niepce family and was able to collect important early examples, which
made their way to Russia. By then, the fledgling era of the photography
collector was upon the art world, and Hamel’s seminal gathering of images by
Niepce is an achievement in itself. This 50-page book is enhanced by a dozen
or so black-and-white plates, including a classic 1844 portrait of Daguerre,
that are themselves worth the book’s $5 price. So is the amusing epilogue,
in which Hamel persuades the Tsar to let him journey to America. Tsar
Nicholas shared the view of many Europeans that the Americas were rife with
cannibals, and feared that his faithful Hamel would develop a taste for
human flesh, if not be devoured himself. Thus, he made Hamel sign a pledge
that on his visit to the U.S., “I shall not eat human meat.”
“La photographie allait bientôt être révélée. Elle ne s’appelait pas encore photographie.
Depuis quelque temps déjà, le public suivait avec intérêt les travaux des chimistes d’une part, des opticiens de l’autre, qui en plusieurs contrées tentaient de trouver un moyen simple et fidèle de reproduire les visages et les paysages. Les vitrines du Palais-Royal proposaient les plus récentes machines à dessiner, de mystérieuses cameræ obscuræ et d’élégantes chambres claires au long bras articulé.
En ce début de janvier 1839, les journaux français ont annoncé que la nouvelle invention tant attendue était enfin prête, et d’une nature si singulière qu’une grande cérémonie rassemblerait bientôt savants, artistes et représentants de la Nation pour célébrer la portée universelle de la nouveauté. Aucun industriel ne serait favorisé, aucune barrière juridique ou administrative n’en freinerait la diffusion et cette merveille, qui deviendrait la photographie, serait
bientôt offerte, au nom de la France et d’un certain Daguerre, à l’Humanité toute entière.
Pour être précis, le gouvernement avait décidé, non sans esprit de vieille et cordiale rivalité, d’offrir le secret au monde entier sauf à l’Angleterre, pays fort tatillon sur les brevets, et critique sur la paternité de la découverte annoncée.
Bien sûr, les inventeurs français seraient fêtés et décorés, même indemnisés pour cette libéralité.
Rarement un cadeau fit autant et aussi durablement plaisir. Le plus prompt à l’apprécier était un certain Joseph Hamel. Il rassembla méthodiquement l’essentiel des essais et des documents qui permettent aujourd’hui de comprendre la genèse de l’invention de la photographie. Ce singulier explorateur aurait probablement été défini au siècle précédent comme un pirate, et au siècle suivant comme un espion économique. Il venait exactement du bout du monde, et nous allons raconter maintenant son étrange aventure…”
Le texte a été complété et corrigé avant d’être traduit en anglais six mois plus tard :
NIEPCE, DAGUERRE OR TALBOT? THE QUEST OF JOSEPH HAMEL TO FIND
THE REAL INVENTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY. By Serge Plantureux; English translation
by Suzy Firth. Published by Accademia dei Venti ISBN #2-84940-003-3; EAN
#9782849400036. . 48 pages.