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André Adolphe Eugène Disdéri
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André Adolphe Engène Disdéri, the popularizer of the photographic carte de visite, was born in Paris in 1819, the first of several children of a cloth merchant. After unsuccessful attempts to find a career as an artist, actor, traveling salesman and tradesman, in 1848 Disdéri relocated with his wife, the former Geneviève Elisabeth Francart (1817-1878), and infant daughter to Brest, where his wife’s brother lived, and opened a photographic studio soon thereafter. He made daguerreotype portraits and became involved in socialist politics, earning surveillance by the police. After a financially-disastrous project involving a painted diorama of Brest, he left his family and business in 1852 for Nîmes, where he opened a photography studio and experimented with the new collodion glass negatives. His wife stayed in Brest and continued to operate the photographic studio Disdéri had opened. In late 1853 he relocated to Paris, and opened a studio in 1854, taking portrait photographs and street views of Paris. He mounted an exhibition of his photographs late that year. Although Disdéri may not have invented the carte-de-visite photograph (usually, a portrait photograph mounted on a card measuring approximately 4 in. by 2-1/2 in.), he did file for a patent for the idea in November, 1854. His breakthrough invention, however, was to take eight photographs on one glass plate, enabling him to print the portraits as a group and then sell the small cards at a price affordable for the middle class. He also published albums of photos of Versailles and the 1855 Paris Exposition Universelle. By 1859 his cartes de visite became very popular and sold in huge numbers, particularly those with portraits of celebrities. From 1860 through 1862, he published La Galerie des contemporains, a fortnightly. Each issue featured a biography and a carte-de-visite photograph of a celebrity, with some photographs being provided by other photographers. Disdéri expanded his subject matter from portraits to buildings and monuments, established branches in Toulon and London and perhaps Madrid, and became financially very successful. By the mid-1860s, however a new-larger portrait format of approximately 4 in. by 7 in. became popular, and sales of the smaller carte de visite waned. Disdéri invested in equipment for the new format, but was not as successful with it as were others. The Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 interrupted the portrait photography business in Paris, and like other photographers Disdéri photographed the war’s participants and devastation and the subsequent violence of the Paris Commune of 1871 and its suppression. Disdéri used a special wagon to move his photographic equipment when recording the ruins of Paris and other cities. He photographed executed Communards, perhaps on commission by the police. After the Imperial restoration, Disdéri continued his photographic business, but was not financially successful. He filed for bankruptcy in Jan 1872. In the same year his wife arrived in Paris from Brest and set up a competing photographic studio. Disdéri recruited new backers, but then sold his Paris studio in 1875. By 1879 he had moved to Nice, where he operated studios at various locations. He returned to Paris in 1888 or 1889 and died in a hospital for indigents in 1889. (TNB 2/2010) Selected bibliography: Hannavy, John, ed., Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2008, v. 1, pp. 417-420. McCauley, Elizabeth Anne. A.A.E. Disdéri and the carte de visite portrait photograph., New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985. McCauley, Elizabeth Anne. "Carte de visite." The Oxford Companion to the Photograph. ed. Robin Lenman. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. Wilder, Kelley E. "Disdéri, André-Adolphe-Eugène," The Oxford Companion to the Photograph. ed. Robin Lenman. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.