Hyppolyte Bayard

“You do not know who I am …”

Among all the true or potential “inventors” of photography Hyppolyte Bayard is certainly awarded the prize for most unfortunate not to see recognized their merits, and perhaps also because ill-advised, in losing the opportunity to enter in history as the first of them.

Researches and studies by photography historians, as well as the writings left by Bayard himself, seem to show, in fact, as the positive results of his photographic process were certified before those of Daguerre; unfortunately for him, though, the story relentlessly ruled that he made public his trials until the end of February 1840 and so months after the official demonstration of the daguerreotype by the countryman.

bayard_self-portrait_in_the_garden Born in France in January 1807, he did not immediately manifest a particular photographic talent but, rather a strong aptitude for experimentation that makes its way into adulthood especially when in the time off from his job at the ministry Finance he assiduously devoted himself  to the research on the camera obscura and the creation of stable images.

His efforts led him in the course of the ’30s to develop two different methods, both based on the use of paper as a support; The first one, similar to Talbot’s calotype, leading to the creation of negative images that were contact printed to get  positive image.

The second method, just as interesting, directly produced positive images and represents an original contribution of Bayard to the photography advance: He sensitized the paper with silver chloride which completely blackened after being exposed, creating the black background of the image; the paper sheet was then immersed in a bath of potassium iodide which has the characteristic of discolor the background because of the amount of light it receives.

The formation of clear zones led then to obtain a positive image with undoubtedly quite good definition also because of the long exposure times required, often over ten minutes; the image below represents a good example:


Bayard had also solved the problem of fixing the image that plagued his negative approach, taking a bath with sodium thiosulphate. According to historical evidence about the dates, including records of a show with about thirty images that Bayard staged at least two months before the presentation of the daguerreotype, it is evident that he had anticipated both Daguerre and Talbot using methods very similar to theirs; but, then, why do not we talk of him as the true inventor of photography?

Thought are different from those who argue that Bayard had not fully aware of the importance of their work to those, however, states that he was the victim of a real scam in favor of Daguerre. What is certain is that he showed to Arago (Daguerre’s “sponsor”) some of his photographs presenting the process followed to obtain them, and was advised by same Arago not to make it public! From his memories we also discover that he was advised to abandon the development of the procedure with negative as it was considered not useful.

Certainly now it is not easy to reconstruct reality, although many elements suggest that perhaps the story hippolyte_bayard_-_drownedman_1840 should be rewritten in another way; among other things, there is the irony with which he faced the humiliation suffered in seeing Daguerre awardes an annual pension of 6,000 francs (compared to 600 one-off that Arago granted to Bayard): a self-portrait that simulates the corpse of a drowned man, with a long caption that illustrates the unhealthy gesture blaming depression for the success of his rival:

However, he also took some revenge when he was chosen to participate in the Mission Eliographique of the French government: his images gathered for the occasion are some of the best specimens of the whole initiative and met with considerable success in a time when the daguerreotype had already embarked on his downward spiral.

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