Hippolyte Bayard (1807-1887)

A man with a sharp sense of humor and an ingenious way of making a point, Hippolyte Bayard created what is considered the first staged photograph: "Self Portrait as a Drowned Man". One of a small group of photographic inventors, Bayard was persuaded to postpone the announcement of his photographic process to the French Academy of Sciences by Francois Arago, an ally of Louis Daguerre, the man conventionally credited as the inventor of photography in August of 1839. Arago's duplicity manipulated history and deprived Bayard of the recognition he deserved. Bayard, having had a show of his work in June of 1839 undoubtedly bested Daguerre to the prize but connections, as we all know, are everything. Bayard at least goes down in history as the first of the elite group to hold a photographic exhibition and the photographer with the most entertaining anecdote from the early history of photography. Bayard's message on the back of his photograph gives us a sense of his wit and stark frustration: “The corpse which you see here is that of M. Bayard, inventor of the process that has just been shown to you. As far as I know this indefatigable experimenter has been occupied for about three years with his discovery. The Government which has been only too generous to Monsieur Daguerre has said it can do nothing for Monsieur Bayard, and the poor wretch has drowned himself. Oh the vagaries of human life! He has been at the morgue for several days, and no-one has recognized or claimed him. Ladies and gentlemen, you’d better pass along for fear of offending your sense of smell, for as you can observe, the face and hands of the gentleman are beginning to decay.” The comment, "...the face and hands beginning to decay" is yet another glimpse of Bayard's comic deftness; we recognize the 'tan line' of a 19th century man who sported a buttoned up collar and long sleeve garments and enjoy his playful use of this specific detail in the photograph. Bayard sent this photograph to his antagonist as a suicide note, an amusing way to exact revenge on the established order, touché Hippolyte!