Adam Begley interviews Ali Smith in our new Summer issue. Begley’s new book, The Great Nadar: The Man Behind the Camera—a biography of the fabled Parisian photographer Félix Nadar—is out this month. The book’s appendix takes a closer look at one of Nadar’s most treasured mementos.
The book, the size of a large photo album, has been disassembled, its two hundred-odd pages cut out and placed each in its own transparent protective sheath. Detached, the leather-bound front cover, with Félix Nadar’s flamboyant signature stamped in the center in gold leaf, lies in a cardboard box looking scuffed and forlorn, like exiled royalty.
The album is a livre d’or, one of several guest books or autograph albums he kept in successive studios. If you came to sit for a portrait (or a caricature, in the early days on the rue Saint-Lazare), and if you were an artist or a celebrity or preferably both, he would pester you to sign and leave a memento: a quip, a sketch, a poem, a few bars of music. Most sitters complied. Many signed and left only a brief remark, if any; others spent hours over a drawing or a watercolor, leaving on the page work of impressive quality. Félix was very proud of his collection of autographs, each one a token of friendship or a link with an eminent individual. Read More