The Changing Faces of Fame

Hunter Drohojowska-Philp is an occasional contributor to Calendar

Nadar did not say, "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes," but he could have. Although the notorious remark came from Pop artist Andy Warhol, its spirit is shared by the photographs of Nadar, the French photographer who made celebrities of the artists, writers and social theorists of the 1850s.

Striking parallels between the two artists led to the exhibition "Nadar / Warhol: Paris / New York," opening Tuesday at the Getty Museum, including about 40 photographs by each artist.

Gordon Baldwin and Judith Keller, associate curators in the museum's department of photography, conceived the exhibition as a way to gain fresh perspective on the artists' work and to look at the changing nature of fame. Baldwin, who focused on Nadar, says, "Each was the most important visual artist of his time to set out deliberately to create celebrity for his subjects." Keller, who selected the Warhol photographs, adds, "the studios of both artists were gathering places for the artists of their time."

Four years in the planning, the exhibition was conceived because the Getty owns some 350 prints by Nadar as a result of purchasing the Sam Wagstaff collection in 1984. The museum owned only one Warhol photograph when the idea for the show came up, but it has since acquired 13 more and has borrowed others from the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and other institutions for the exhibition.

The curators felt the show would help less familiar pictures by Nadar gain currency, while also placing Warhol's photographs within a larger historical framework. "We decided this juxtaposition would help people look at Nadar in a different way," Baldwin says. "In addition, it is a chance to let people know about Warhol as a photographer.

*

As they prepare to install the work in the galleries, the curators are reviewing the show's dozens of framed prints, for the moment installed on shelves in the streamlined, blond-wood study center of the museum's photography department. Nadar's sepia-toned likeness of famous 19th century actress Sarah Bernhardt rests next to Warhol's close-cropped Polaroid of Liza Minnelli. Illustrator Gustave Dore, posed rakishly by Nadar with a checked scarf around his neck, is adjacent to Warhol's Polaroid of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, stylish in a red necktie and black leather jacket. Baldwin points out, "They [Dore and Mapplethorpe] are both young men on their way to being very successful artists, both were close friends of the photographers, both were ambitious and ultimately made rich by their work, and both died young."

Although these prints are in the exhibition, the curators don't belabor such comparisons, presenting each photographer in his own gallery.

Today, Nadar may not have the name recognition of Warhol, but he was very much a celebrity in 1950s Paris. Journalist and caricaturist Gaspard Felix Tournachon invented his pseudonym by changing his last name to Tournadar, then shortening it to Nadar. The son of a publisher who was slowly bankrupted by well-meaning but ill-conceived ventures, Nadar struggled to support himself in Paris. With friends like Dore and writer Alexandre Dumas, Nadar lived the impoverished but creative existence romanticized by writer Henri Murger in "Scenes From the Bohemian Life." The book inspired Puccini's 1896 opera "La Boheme," further mythologizing the notion of the noble but unappreciated genius artist.

With his lanky figure and bright red hair, Nadar was a whirlwind of productivity, writing and editing for small newspapers as well as providing illustrations. He reproduced his caricatures of 249 artists and writers, led by Victor Hugo, in a popular, self-promoting lithograph called "Pantheon Nadar."

After he had attained a certain financial stability, Nadar helped his younger brother set up a photography studio, but wound up taking over the business. Soon after he abandoned his other interests; his bohemian friends, who had also established their own successes, became his clientele. Within a few years, Nadar opened a larger portrait studio with his name in red letters emblazoned across the front of the building on the fashionable Boulevard des Capucines.

Like Warhol, Nadar flattered his sitters. In the 1850s, however, expectations were not terribly high. "If they had been daguerreotyped, they knew that every flaw would be recorded. Baudelaire rails against how unattractive they are," Baldwin says. Using a soft lens and salt prints, Nadar presented his sitters against a flat, white background, making the then-radical decision to remove clues as to social or professional standing.

Since Nadar knew most of his sitters, he was able to capture insightful and relaxed expressions. "A great virtue is that he was not interested in formal presentation," Baldwin says. "Partly, that is because a good many of them were friends and people he admired."

Unlike Warhol, Nadar made no effort to photograph society figures, especially those clinging to the court of Napoleon III, whom he loathed. Although he grew rich from his photography, much of his fortune was lost to his obsession with piloting hot-air balloons. He financed one trip that went so far off course that he, his wife and their passengers landed some 400 miles away from Paris. After his wife took over his business, Nadar prospered, and when he died in 1910, his son Paul inherited the studio.

Andy Warhol also changed his name, shortening Andrew Warhola. The son of a construction worker, Warhol grew up in a family of poor Slovak immigrants in Pittsburgh. Even as a sickly child, he collected glossy photographs of movie stars. He watched his older brother, John, professionally hand-color portraits taken in the photo booth at his shop.

After graduating from the Carnegie Institute of Technology in 1949, Warhol began working as a commercial artist in New York. Like Nadar, he worked for a decade as an illustrator. By 1963, however, he embraced his earlier affiliation with photographs. Polaroids were transformed into silk-screened paintings with the assistance of poet Gerard Malanga at their 47th Street studio called the Factory.

*

Although Warhol is known for his paintings of Campbell's soup cans and Brillo boxes, Keller makes the case that photography was Warhol's consistent and compelling interest. Using the Big Shot Polaroid and later 35-millimeter cameras, Warhol documented artists, musicians, writers and actors as well as socialites who came to the Factory. The show includes portraits of Robert Rauschenberg, Truman Capote, Edie Sedgewick and Princess Grace of Monaco. Many of the portraits were commissioned, and the Polaroid camera was inherently flattering, since it was technically incapable of recording tiny details of wrinkles and shadows.

Like Nadar, Warhol used a white background but sought the most neutral possible expression from his sitters. This absence of emotion offers insights into high-profile personalities. Keller explains, "He used bright, artificial light and a flash and took hundreds of shots, trying to get something like a stare--the Jackie O. gaze--surprised and blank. It's the effect he tried to achieve in his self-portraits, as well, just a clean slate. You think it doesn't reveal anything, but in fact it does."

Commissioned portraits made Warhol rich, but unlike Nadar, he managed to hang onto his considerable wealth until his death due to complications from a gall bladder operation in 1987.

Because Nadar was one of the first to use photography to create celebrity, Warhol certainly knew the earlier artist's photographs, though his more immediate models were Cecil Beaton and Edward Steichen. Baldwin says, "The kinds of people who are famous in the 19th century are different from those in the 20th century. There were no movie stars. There are all kinds of people who didn't exist as a class of celebrities.

"Fame has evolved in part because of the existence of photography, which absolutely changed what fame was about," he adds. "It gave actual resemblances for people to associate with a reputation. Before then, one had coins, stamps, etchings, but people didn't know what most famous people looked like. After photography, they did."

Warhol's portraits of Mick Jagger are now icons in themselves. Did any of Nadar's pictures imprint on the public consciousness?

Baldwin says, "I would guess that the era's best-known images of people were the ones Nadar produced, because he displayed them in exhibitions. His studio was open, the gallery section had windows to the street, and when people went by or went in, they saw photographs of these people."

Nadar had no makeup artists or hair stylists at the studio. Keller says, "The idea of glamour had not been established, at least not the way we think of it. Glamour came out of the Hollywood and studio photography of the '30s and '40s. There were makeup people and hairdressers at the Factory."

*

Still, even in Nadar's day, photographing an artist could further the subject's career.

"Anything that builds name recognition is good for an artist, writer or painter," Baldwin says. "When Nadar photographs writers in heroic positions, that is calculated. Partly, he admires the person, but it is playing into the heroic identity of self that Baudelaire does a great deal to foster at that time. That's quite new. In the 1840s, people are beginning to have a highly developed sense of self. Rulers may have done that before, but creative people did not."

Nadar and Warhol both indulged in self-portraiture. Some are quite fanciful, such as Nadar posed as an aeronaut in a balloon or Warhol photographing himself in drag. Others are introspective. Such efforts only added to their own celebrity. Baldwin says, "Both of them used photography to make people famous and make themselves famous. Yet I think it is fair to say that fame changes. Fame is faster in the 20th century."

*

"Nadar / Warhol: Paris / New York," continuing through Oct. 10, is one of three exhibitions at the Getty Museum exploring portraiture and fame. Related exhibitions are "Light in the Darkness: The Photographs of Hill and Adamson," from Tuesday to Oct. 10, focusing on the partnership of David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson in 19th century Scotland, and "A Passion for Performance: Sarah Siddons and Her Portraitists," from July 27 to Sept. 26, with 10 portraits of the actress by 18th century British painters.

* The Getty Center, 1200 Getty Center Drive, Brentwood. Tuesdays-Wednesdays, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Thursdays-Fridays, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Saturdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Free; parking (reservations required), $5. (310) 440-7300.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
53°