Issue #170  3/10/2010
Photo Catalogues: Bayard's Living Light

By Matt Damsker



With an essay by Eugenia Parry. Catalogue Salt and Paper XI, Daniel Blau Photography, Odeonsplatz 12, 80539, Munich, Germany. 44 pages; 16 color plates; ISBN 978-3-00-030234-3; Catalogue price: 25 euros. Information: phone: + 49 (0)89-29 73 42 and fax: + 49 (0)89-24 20 48 60; email: contact@danielblau.de . Website: http://www.danielblauphotography.com/photo/catalogues/bayard.html .

This exhibition catalogue from Galerie Daniel Blau presents some of Hippolyte Bayard's most evocative seminal images, with a luminous essay by Eugenia Parry that provides important context and insight into the life and work of this pioneer of the medium. In the immediate wake of Daguerre and Niépce, it was Bayard (1801- 1887) in France and William Henry Fox Talbot in England who advanced photography with their direct positive prints on paper, moving quickly from experimentation to the codification of their techniques. Bayard's early images are powerful compilations, in their way, of living light, atmosphere, the coexistence of the past and present, all seamlessly rendered through a scrupulous attention to the drama of architectural detail and landscape.

In her essay Parry connects Bayard with the artistic dominance of Romanticism and the literary formulations of Honoré de Balzac, who believed that photography could capture a spiritual, if not a supernatural aura. She notes that Bayard's work evolved from the purely descriptive yet ghostly beauty of his 1839 "Héra Barberini," a rare direct positive on paper which depicts the classical statue's head in profile, a misty vision that gives godlike form to the void. From there, Bayard's focus on the natural world resulted in some of the great early salt-print views of Paris and rich architectural studies (including the wonderful "Ruined House") from his window and elsewhere in Batignolles.

The centerpieces of Blau's offering are Bayard's nuanced frontal views of the facades of the Louvre and especially of the St. Étienne portal of Notre Dame Cathedral under restoration. These seven 1849 treatments of Notre Dame are of a man in black positioned at the foot of the entrance way, amidst construction materials, to provide a perfect sense of scale. The group is composed of albumen-coated salt prints from glass negatives. Their clarity in capturing the raking sunlight, the sculptural beauty and texture of the friezes and weathered stones is astonishing.

Each version of the identical images affords a different spiritual dimension through the play and modulation of the light, and Parry is right to note that Bayard's St. Étienne series "seems to anticipate Monet's serial renditions of Rouen Cathedral in the 1890s", thus affirming an important link from photography's early days to the earliest stirrings of Modernism.

She also hits the perfect interpretive note when she concludes that "Bayard's work belongs to the dawn of new inventions where there are formulas, but the results aren't formulaic. Everything is an open question."

Without question, though, Blau's presentation of these rarities is as well-focused as was Bayard's lens.

Matt Damsker is an author and critic, who has written about photography and the arts for the Los Angeles Times, Hartford Courant, Philadelphia Bulletin, Rolling Stone magazine and other publications. His book, "Rock Voices", was published in 1981 by St. Martin's Press. His essay in the book, "Marcus Doyle: Night Vision" was published in the fall of 2005. He currently reviews books for U.S.A. Today.

(Book publishers, authors and photography galleries/dealers may send review copies to us at: I Photo Central, 258 Inverness Circle, Chalfont, PA 18914. We do not guarantee that we will review all books or catalogues that we receive. Books must be aimed at photography collecting, not how-to books for photographers.)