Born in the French village of Breteuil sur Noye on January 20, 1801, Mr. Bayard's family moved to Paris so that his father could accept a ministry of France civil service position shortly thereafter. The senior Bayard had a passion for gardening, and his experiments on how the skin of peaches react chemically to sunlight had a lasting impact upon his young son. This likely fueled Mr. Bayard's interest in the chemical reactions of light and his subsequent experimentation. By March 1839, the junior Bayard had invented the process of direct positive photography on paper.
The process itself was relatively straightforward. First, the paper was treated with sodium chloride. After drying, the paper was submerged in silver nitrate to create silver chloride, which is sensitive to light. The paper was then exposed to light until it turned black, washed, dried, and then stored in a portfolio until needed. Before the paper could be used, it had to be saturated in potassium iodide, placed into the camera, and then received light exposure. After being treated in sodium thiosulfate and placed in a bath of ammonia and water, a positive photographic image would appear on the paper.
Unfortunately for Mr. Bayard, because he never published his process, which actually produced sharper images than William Henry Fox Talbot's negative photography, his invention was quickly surpassed by Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre's daguerreotype, which had the important political patronage that Mr. Bayard's process lacked. It has therefore perhaps unfairly been relegated to little more than an historical footnote.
Mr. Bayard, who was one of the founders of the Societe Heliographique and the Societe Francaise de Photographie, opened his first commercial photography studio in 1855. Six years later, he opened a studio with acclaimed illustrator Bertall (Albert d'Arnoux) that specialized in carte-de-visite portraits. Soon, the duo began lucratively mass-producing their prints.
Throughout his long career, Mr. Bayard would explore several processes including wet plate collodion, albumen, paper negative, and even daguerreotype in his portraits, still life, and landscapes. He quickly mastered the art of industrial and architectural photography, and was awarded for his efforts. He won medals at the Paris Industry Exhibition in 1849, the London Crystal Palace Exhibition in 1851, and the London Universal Exhibition in 1862. His use of the calotype technique is featured in his photographs of the Montmartre windmills, the Arc de Triomphe, and in the Excavation of Rue Tholoze. Mr. Bayard even poked fun at his anonymity in comparison to the international success Daguerre and Talbot enjoyed in his Self-Portrait as a Drowned Man.
However, in 1863, Mr. Bayard's photographic innovations were finally officially acknowledged when he received the prestigious cross of the French Legion of Honor. He announced his retirement in 1869, and spent the next eighteen years in relative obscurity. Hippolyte Bayard died of natural causes in the northern French town of Nemours on May 24, 1887. Although overshadowed by Daguerre in his lifetime, Hippolyte Bayard's discovery of the direct positive process in 1839 has earned him a place in the global history of photography. His revolutionary accomplishments took photographic processes to the next level in the nineteenth century.
Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Volume 1 (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC, 2008), pp. 122-125.
Photo source: Wikipedia Commons French site.
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