People: Project 2 Portraiture Research

Presentation by Mary McIlroy

This presentation will include information about two portrait photographers, who have extremely different styles, one pre-1950s and one post-1950s, as outlined in the People: Project 2 brief - these portrait photographers are Nadar and Antoine D'Agata.


Revloving Self-Portrait, Nadar (The Public Domain Review, 2017)

Gaspard-Felix Tournachon, also known as NADAR (1820-1910). Nadar was French and born in Paris in 1820. He started his photography career in 1853 and concentrated initially on portraiture. However, previous to this he had a variety of careers and interests ranging from medicine to journalism and drawing caricatures, writing novels and painting. He is also known for taking the first photographs from the sky, as he shot from above in a hot-air balloon in 1858 as he was an avid balloonist. He then started taking pictures in sewers, using artificial light. He died in Senart in 1910. He was fortunate to have famous friends and he photographed them in his studio, which was on Rue Saint Lazar, in Paris. In 1860 he moved his studio to Boulevard des Capucines, artists, emerging at the time, would meet there, and he became very well-known. Nadar curated the first Impressionist exhibition, these Impressionist artists, at the time, were unknown. His early photography was concentrated on portraiture, and photographing his friends. He was a passionate, extroverted character, who would talk with his subjects until the exact moment when he felt they were in a natural position, then he would take his photograph (Koch, 2016; Meltzer, 2017).

Gustave Eiffel, photographed by Nadar (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2017)
Edouard Manet, photographed by Nadar (The Public Domain Review, 2017)
Claude Monet, photographed by Nadar (The Public Domain Review, 2017)
Franz Liszt, photographed by Nadar (The Public Domain Review, 2017)
Alexandre Dumas, photographed by Nadar (The Public Domain Review, 2017)
Sarah Bernhardt, photographed by Nadar (The Public Domain Review, 2017)

In regards to his portraiture style and purpose, Nadar is best known for how he used light in his portrait photographs and how his subjects posed. He spoke with them and allowed them to pose naturally. He used techniques that artists used in compositions to emphasise their faces, like using three-quarter poses and side-lighting. He even used techniques available to him to diffuse and reflect the light onto his subjects. He didn't want his photographs to be staged in any way, instead he made portraits that were honest, captured details and showed a true likeness of his subjects (Meltzer, 2017).


Antoine d'Agata (, 2017)

Antoine D'Agata (1961-present) is also French. He was born in 1961, in Marseilles, France. He went to New York in 1990 and partook in photography courses at the International Centre of Photography and then returned to France. He became a member of the VU Agency in 1999, was nominated for Magnum in 2004 and became a full member in 2008. He has been exhibited, won prizes, published books and made films. The purpose of his work is to show emotion in situations; his work is dark in style and feels raw, themes reoccur in his work such as sex, drugs, pain, loneliness, identity and the brutality of life in general (Koch, 2016). He has not resided anywhere specific since 2005, but he travels and works as he goes (, 2017).

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Antoine D'Agata has taken portraits of people all over the world. He has taken pictures in France, New York, Texas, Cambodia, Japan, Mozambique, Jamaica, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, Germany and Poland to name a few.

He released 'Odysseia' in 2013, a collection of pictures and video about migrants from ' Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Slovakia, Ukraine, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia'. He wanted to capture and gain an understanding of these migrants experience and the dangers they faced (, 2017). He has said, in relation to this: ''When I was on the ground, I constantly questioned the usefulness of my presence. I photographed people dying, to show them to those who let them die.-Antoine d’Agata'' (, 2017).

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His style is dark as are the themes he is drawn to photographing, as mentioned above. On the whole, there seems to be an element of movement in his images, blur and grain/noise and/or a nostalgic element, as he has drawn on photographic styles from a previous era. His images make me feel like I am looking at something alien-like, unearthly, something mysterious and, in some instances, like I'm intruding. Through his style of photography emotions are conveyed strongly to the viewer, you feel pain, sadness, empathy, and disgust in some instances. In my opinion the themes he chooses to photograph are captured perfectly in the style of his work. If his pictures were glossy, sharp, perfectly composed and contemporary-looking they would convey a whole different feeling. I like the dark, raw element and movement and noise in the images he produces, and the retro feel of them, even although his work makes me uncomfortable at times, overall I like the aesthetic and artistic quality of his photography, as it makes you think.

The purpose of his work seems to be to grab people's attention through his style, themes and the raw quality of the images he captures. To provoke emotion. It doesn't seem like he's trying to make something dark into something attractive, or appealing, to make it exciting or to make you want to participate. 'His photography is one of violence and despair. D'Agata's interest is in exploring the unconscious, in unearthing the intense sensations that come from underground lifestyles and that defy the bourgeois social order. As there is no place for deviance in that order, his photography is one of protest' (Koch, 2016, p. 176).


Encyclopedia Britannica. (2017). history of photography. [online] Available at: [Accessed 25 Feb. 2017].

Koch, R. (2016). Photobox. [Place of publication not identified]: Thames & Hudson. (2017). Magnum Photos Blog. [online] Available at: [Accessed 25 Feb. 2017]. (2017). Magnum Photos Home. [online] Available at: [Accessed 25 Feb. 2017]. (2017). Magnum Photos Photographer Portfolio. [online] Available at: [Accessed 25 Feb. 2017].

Meltzer, S. (2017). The incomparable Nadar: Master photographer, political cartoonist and balloonist of 19th-century Paris. [online] Available at: [Accessed 25 Feb. 2017].

The Public Domain Review. (2017). Various Forms of Architecture (1636). [online] Available at: [Accessed 25 Feb. 2017].

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