French daguerreotypist, photographer, and inventor Andre-Adolphe-Eugene Disderi was born on March 28, 1819. An art enthusiast from an early age, he became a daguerreotypist and settled in Brest during the late 1840s. Relocating to Paris, Mr. Disderi embarked upon a period of intense photographic experimentation, during which time he a twin-lens reflex camera and patented his carte de visite technique in 1854, for which he would achieve international recognition.
Known in the United States as a "card photograph," the carte-de-visite was a small image that was pasted onto a visiting card that measured 4 x 2-1/2 inches. It had dual lenses like its counterpart the stereographic camera, but could actually project up to ten different images upon a single photographic plate. Because these images could be affordably mass-produced, the daguerreotype soon lost its international appeal to the carte-de-visite. Mr. Disderi was its greatest promoter, proudly showing off its efficiency and ease of use to enthusiastic audiences.
During the 1850s and 1860s, Mr. Disderi's photographic business flourished and his reputation grew. At one point, his business employed more than 70 assistants due to the high demand generated by the carte-de-visite. Its immense popularity also allowed him to expand his business significantly. In 1855, he opened the Societe du Palais de l'Industrie in Paris and secured the rights to photograph the Paris Exposition. Six years' later, he opened a studio that specialized in photographing horses. A similar equestrian photography shop opened in London in 1868.
He continued patenting his photographic inventions such as positive paper preparation that did not require gold salts to be added and his own process that bore some resemblance to the Woodburytype developed by Walter B. Woodbury. In addition, Mr. Disderi published several pamphlets and books, including his famous textbook, L'art de la photographie, more commonly known by its English translation, Universal Textbook of Photography.
Despite his seemingly flourishing business enterprises, Mr. Disderi suffered several financial setbacks, but was able to bounce back until the popularity of the carte-de-visite began waning in the late 1860s. The Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and 1871 hit French citizens hard and nearly struck a death blow to the photographic industry. Mr. Disderi attempted to photograph the effects of the war, but was hampered by the lack of effective equipment that relegated him to photographing building ruins and constructing montages of battle recreations.
Relocating to Nice in 1871, Mr. Disderi eventually established another photographic company there, but his most successful years were behind him. Defeated and penniless, he went back to Paris, where he died in a hospital for indigents on October 4, 1889. Fortunately, much of Andre-Adolphe-Eugene Disderi's voluminous carte-de-visite images have been archived in the Bibliotheque Nationale, and there are also collections presently housed throughout Europe and in the United States.
2008 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Volume 1 (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), pp. 417-420.
2002 Photography: A Cultural History (London: Lawrence King Publishing Ltd.), pp. 84-85.
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