Tuesday, 25 July 2017

William Crockford's St James's Club

Crockford was born 13 January 1776 in Temple Bar, London, the son of a fishmonger, and for some time himself carried on that business. He married firstly (1801) Mary Lockwood and secondly (20 May 1812 St George's Hanover Square) Sarah Frances Douglass. After winning a large sum of money (according to one story, £100,000) either at cards or by running a gambling establishment, he built a luxurious gambling house designed by Benjamin and Philip Wyatt at 50-53 St James's Street in 1827. In order to ensure exclusiveness, he organized the house as a members' club under the name "The St James's Club" though popularly known as "Crockford's Club" and it quickly became the rage – every English social celebrity and every distinguished foreigner visiting London hastened to become a member. Even the Duke of Wellington joined, though it is alleged this was in order merely to blackball his son, Lord Douro, should he seek election. Hazard was the favourite game, and very large sums changed hands.

Crockford retired in 1840, when, in the expressive language of Captain Rees Howell Gronow, he had "won the whole of the ready money of the then existing generation." He took approximately £1,200,000 out of the club, but subsequently invested some of it unwisely, particularly with two of his sons and one daughter (Henry, Charles and Fanny Crockford) in mining and zinc manufacturing in Greenfield, Flintshire, Wales. Crockford died at his home 11 Carlton House Terrace (later Prime Minister Gladstone's home) on 24 May 1844. and lies buried in a family vault underneath Kensal Green Cemetery Chapel London

Crockford's, the popular name for William Crockford's St James's Club was a London gentlemen's club, now dissolved. It was established in 1823, closed in 1845, re-founded in 1928 and closed in 1970. One of London's older clubs, it was centred on gambling and maintained a somewhat raffish and raucous reputation. It was founded by William Crockford who employed Benjamin Wyatt and Philip Wyatt to construct the city's most opulent palace of gentlemanly pleasure, which opened in November 1827 and he employed two of London's finest chefs of the time, Louis Eustache Ude and then Charles Elmé Francatelli to feed its members, food and drink being supplied free after midnight.

From 1823, the club leased 50 St. James's Street, and then nos. 51–53, which enabled Crockford to pull down all four houses and build his palatial club on the site. After the club's closure, this continued to be used as a clubhouse, at first briefly by the short-lived Military, Naval and County Service Club, and then between 1874 and 1976 it was home to the Devonshire Club.

“The Georgian Art of Gambling takes readers on a wild tour through high and low society in Georgian England to reveal all aspects of the widespread love of gambling. From detailed accounts of the fashionable card and dice games of the day, as played in fine homes and gambling houses alike, to wagering on blood sports like cockfighting and bull baiting, and such less gruesome affairs as boxing and cricket, Claire Cock-Starkey brings to life the world of Jane Austen; Beau Brummel; Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire; and more. We see aristocrats ruined by the turn of a card; activists mounting antigambling campaigns through pamphlets, broadsides, and legislation; and the devious machinations of card sharps and dice loaders. Cock-Starkey also offers rules and descriptions for a number of games that have fallen out of favor, along with copious anecdotes and facts about the culture of chance in Regency England.”

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Churchill tried to suppress Nazi plot to restore Edward VIII to British throne / VIDEO: Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson - Interview with Kenneth Harris (video)

Churchill tried to suppress Nazi plot to restore Edward VIII to British throne

PM sought US and French help to withhold publication of telegrams revealing German overtures to Duke and Duchess of Windsor, cabinet papers reveal

Edward and Wallis Simpson are greeted by Adolf Hitler during a visit to Nazi Germany in 1937.

Alan Travis Home affairs editor
Thursday 20 July 2017 10.01 BST Last modified on Thursday 20 July 2017 17.20 BST

Winston Churchill wanted “to destroy all traces” of telegrams revealing a Nazi plot to reinstate the former King Edward VIII to the British throne in return for his support during the second world war, newly released cabinet papers have revealed.

The telegrams document Nazi plans to kidnap the Duke of Windsor – the title granted to Edward following his abdication in 1936 – and his wife, Wallis Simpson, when they reached Portugal after fleeing their Paris home when France fell to German forces in 1940.

The Cabinet Office file published on Thursday by the National Archives reveals how Churchill appealed to the US president, Dwight Eisenhower, and the French government to prevent publication of the intercepted German telegrams for “at least 10 or 20 years”.

Churchill, the UK prime minister, said the captured German telegrams offering Edward the British throne in the event of a Nazi invasion of Britain were “tendentious and unreliable” and likely to leave the misleading impression that the duke “was in close touch with German agents and was listening to suggestions that were disloyal”.

Churchill made his appeal to Eisenhower after learning that a microfilm copy of the telegrams, which were found in German archives at the end of the war, had been sent to the US State Department and were being considered for inclusion in the official US history of the conflict.

Eisenhower told Churchill on 2 July 1953 that US intelligence shared his assessment that the communications were “obviously concocted with some idea of promoting German propaganda and weakening western resistance” and were “totally unfair” to the duke.

Churchill told the US president that fears for the duke’s safety had led to his appointment as governor of the Bahamas, part of “strenuous efforts to get him away from Europe beyond the reach of the enemy”.

The German telegrams claim that the duke and duchess reacted with surprise when it was suggested to them that Edward might yet have another opportunity to take the throne. “Both seem to be completely bound up in formalistic ways of thought since they replied that according to British constitution this was not possible after abdication,” one telegram says. “When [an] agent then remarked the course of war may produce changes even in the British constitution the Duchess in particular became very thoughtful.”

Churchill told cabinet on 12 August 1953, in a top secret memorandum, that the duke had no knowledge of the telegrams. “The late King [George VI], who had seen the documents, confined himself to insisting that if publication could not be avoided, the Duke of Windsor should be given full and timely warning,” the papers reveal.

Churchill succeeded only in delaying the publication of the telegrams for a few years. When they did come to light, in 1957, duke denounced them as “complete fabrications”.

• This article was amended on 20 July 2017. Due to an editing error, an earlier version incorrectly said that Edward VIII abdicated in 1938. This has been corrected. The picture caption said that in 1937 Edward was later to become King Edward VIII. This has also been corrected.

Kenneth Harris interviews HRH Duke of Windsor, the former King Edward VIII, and his spouse Wallis, Duchess of Windsor

Monday, 17 July 2017

Dunkirk review

Dunkirk review – Christopher Nolan's apocalyptic war epic is his best film so far
5 / 5 stars
    Nolan eschews war porn for a powerful and superbly crafted disaster movie – starring Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy and a decent Harry Styles – with a story to tell

Peter Bradshaw
Monday 17 July 2017 21.00 BST Last modified on Monday 17 July 2017 22.14 BST

Britain’s great pyrrhic defeat or inverse victory of 1940 has been brought to the screen as a terrifying, shattering spectacle by Christopher Nolan. He plunges you into the chaotic evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from northern France after the catastrophic battle of Dunkirk –helped by the now legendary flotilla of small civilian craft. It is part disaster movie, part compressed war epic, and all horribly appropriate for these Brexit times.

Nolan’s Dunkirk has that kind of blazing big-screen certainty that I last saw in James Cameron’s Titanic or Paul Greengrass’s United 93. It is very different to his previous feature, the bafflingly overhyped sci-fi convolution Interstellar. This is a powerful, superbly crafted film with a story to tell, avoiding war porn in favour of something desolate and apocalyptic, a beachscape of shame, littered with soldiers zombified with defeat, a grimly male world with hardly any women on screen.

It is Nolan’s best film so far. It also has Hans Zimmer’s best musical score: an eerie, keening, groaning accompaniment to a nightmare, switching finally to quasi-Elgar variations for the deliverance itself. Zimmer creates a continuous pantonal lament, which imitates the dive bomber scream and queasy turning of the tides, and it works in counterpoint to the deafening artillery and machine-gun fire that pretty much took the fillings out of my teeth and sent them in a shrapnel fusillade all over the cinema auditorium.

The film is, of course, on a massive Nolanesque scale. The Battle of Dunkirk is traditionally seen in terms of a miraculous underdog littleness that somehow redeemed the disaster. The plucky small boats countered the memory of a British army dwarfed by Wehrmacht strategy and a British establishment humiliated by the suspicion that it was only Hitler’s miscalculation or mysterious realpolitik in halting the German advance that permitted the evacuation in the first place. A different kind of Dunkirk movie might have included High Command scenes in Berlin showing the generals arguing with the Führer about precisely this. Maybe Nolan didn’t want his film hijacked by a lot of satirical fake-subtitle YouTubers.

The event itself entered Britain’s pop-cultural bloodstream after the war by way of the opening titles to TV’s Dad’s Army, with its Nazi map-arrows pushing north and the Flanagan theme inspired by Leslie Norman’s 1958 film Dunkirk, starring John Mills and Richard Attenborough. But Nolan is not having any morale-raising laughter or chirpiness. His disaster is big; the stakes are high, the anxiety is unbearable.

We are forced into eardrum-perforating action straight away. A squaddie named Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) scrambles desperately to the beach through the Dunkirk streets under heavy fire and sees the bad-dream panorama in front of him: hundreds of thousands of stranded French and British soldiers waiting all over the sand. Corpses are being buried there. There are no ships to rescue them and – apparently – no air cover to prevent them being picked off. Tommy is to come into contact with fellow soldier, Alex (Harry Styles, making a perfectly strong acting debut). Meanwhile, RAF pilot Farrier (Tom Hardy) is, in fact, engaging the enemy overhead and taking desperate risks with fuel. A grizzled naval officer played by Kenneth Branagh – channelling Jack Hawkins in The Cruel Sea (1953) – broodingly scans the horizon. And on the home front, a Mr Dawson, laconically played by Mark Rylance, takes his little cruiser, joins the people’s armada, encounters a traumatised officer (Cillian Murphy) and endures a terrible sacrifice, which he lives to see mythologised and falsified by the press.

In military terms, Dunkirk is almost entirely static for most of its running time: the battle is over before the film has begun, and there is no narrative context of the sort offered in Leslie Norman’s version. Nolan surrounds his audience with chaos and horror from the outset, and amazing images and dazzlingly accomplished set pieces on a huge 70mm screen, particularly the pontoon crammed with soldiers extending into the churning sea, exposed to enemy aircraft. It is an architectural expression of doomed homeward yearning. There is a tremendous image when some of the soldiers do manage to scramble aboard a destroyer, and are welcomed with tea and that now vanished treat, bread-and-jam, and so tiny rectangles of red surreally speckle the grey-and-khaki picture. It is also persuasively horrible when soldiers wait by the surf’s edge, which has become a lapping scummy froth, as if these are the survivors of some horrible natural disaster.

Christopher Nolan might have found some inspiration from the Dunkirk scene in Joe Wright’s 2007 movie Atonement, but otherwise he brings his own colossal and very distinctive confidence to this story. It’s a visceral piece of film-making.

Saturday, 15 July 2017


14 JUIL 2017

j’ai la joie de vous annoncer officiellement, avec presque deux ans de retard, que mon livre “The Italian Gentleman” est depuis quelques semaines chez l’imprimeur et qu’il sera disponible dans les librairies du monde entier le 26 octobre 2017.
Afin de bien clarifier les choses en termes d’édition (et d’éditeurs), ce livre verra tout d’abord le jour en langue anglaise (donc en édition originale) chez deux éditeurs majeurs : Thames & Hudson à Londres et Rizzoli à New York. Les deux éditions sont identiques, sauf la couverture qui sera très légèrement différente. Thames & Hudson (mon éditeur principal) couvrira prioritairement les marchés européens, moyen et extrême orientaux tandis que Rizzoli couvrira prioritairement le marché nord-américain.
L’année prochaine, en 2018, trois autres éditions sont prévues : une édition en langue française (avec a priori un contenu photographique légèrement différent et la publication de nombreuses photos inédites), une édition en langue italienne et une autre en langue allemande.
Les pré-commandes de l’édition originale sont d’ores et déjà ouvertes chez Amazon.fr comme vous pouvez le constater en suivant ce lien : The Italian Gentleman
Comme vous pouvez vous en douter, et au vu de l’immense investissement personnel et financier que ce volume a représenté pour mon équipe, pour mon camarade Lyle Roblin (photographe du livre) et pour moi-même, toute pré-commande de votre part sera la bienvenue et sera très (très) appréciée.
L’événement de lancement et de dédicace du livre aura lieu au mois de novembre à Paris dans un lieu très prestigieux. La date et le lieu de l’événement vous seront révélés dans ces colonnes durant les premiers jours de septembre.
En attendant, et pour vous remercier de votre patience et de votre fidélité, j’ai le plaisir de partager avec vous aujourd’hui en exclusivité la préface intégrale du livre en langue française.
En espérant que ce premier paragraphe vous donne envie de faire l’acquisition du livre, je vous donne rendez-vous en novembre pour une soirée de dédicace qui s’annonce d’ores et déjà comme exceptionnelle.

par Hugo Jacomet
Photographies Lyle Roblin
Ce livre constitue, de très loin, le projet le plus long, le plus excitant, le plus exigeant, le plus émouvant mais aussi, et surtout, le plus complexe de ma vie d’auteur, de chroniqueur de l’élégance masculine classique et peut-être, l’avenir me le dira, de ma vie d’homme tout entière.
Si j’utilise ici, à dessein, le terme complexe, si cher à Edgard Morin, c’est qu’il décrit à merveille ce projet éditorial extravagant qui aura occupé presque trois années de mon existence.
J’étais parfaitement conscient, au moment où j’ai accepté d’écrire ce livre, que la tâche consistant à tenter de rendre compte de l’apport exceptionnel de l’Italie à l’élégance des hommes, surtout depuis les années 50, serait compliquée. Mais je n’imaginais pas un seul instant que la tentative de décrypter, à défaut d’expliquer, le style italien masculin dans toutes ses dimensions, tout son foisonnement et tout son génie, demanderait autant d’efforts et, oserais-je le dire, autant de sacrifices.
Je savais, dès le début du projet, qu’il me faudrait passer un peu de temps de l’autre côté des Alpes afin d’approfondir ma connaissance, que je considérais par ailleurs comme déjà excellente, du sujet. Pourtant après quelques semaines seulement en Lombardie, à Rome et dans la baie de Naples j’ai vite compris que j’avais très largement surestimé mon expertise dans le domaine et que mener – vraiment- à bien cette entreprise allait me prendre du temps. Beaucoup de temps.
Au début de l’année 2015, en pleine période de finition de mon premier livre « The Parisian Gentleman », deux choix s’offrent alors à moi.
Soit je décide d’écrire le livre depuis mon bureau parisien avec les outils d’aujourd’hui (comprenez l’internet et les e-mails) en demandant à mon ami le talentueux photographe Lyle Roblin, canadien de naissance et milanais d’adoption, d’effectuer des prises de vue dans certaines maisons – tailleurs, chemisiers, bottiers, fabricants d’accessoires – sélectionnées par mes soins.
Soit je prends le risque de me lancer à corps perdu dans une entreprise déraisonnable à tous points de vue (surtout économique) et de produire cet ouvrage « à l’ancienne », en m’installant – littéralement – avec Sonya mon épouse adorée, en Italie pour une année entière (qui se transformera, finalement, en presque deux années) et de sillonner le pays sans relâche à la recherche des meilleurs artisans oeuvrant, en pleine lumière ou dans l’obscurité, à l’élégance des gentlemen du monde entier.
Le livre que vous tenez aujourd’hui entre les mains est donc le fruit de ces deux années d’immersion totale au cœur de l’Italie de l’élégance masculine : plus de 100 ateliers, boutiques, usines, showrooms visités un par un, plus de 70 diners aussi gargantuesques que sympathiques de Biella à Rome, de Milan à Naples, de Florence à Bologne, plus de 15 000 prises de vue effectuées par mon complice Lyle, sans qui ce livre n’aurait jamais vu le jour, probablement plus de 4000 kilomètres parcourus dans la bien-nommée « botte » italienne en voiture, en train, en avion, en taxi, en Vespa et à pied et, finalement, plus de cinquante maisons choisies, étudiées, photographiées et chroniquées dans cet Italian Gentleman intégralement produit « à la main » et qui, je l’espère, vous servira de guide dans cet immense labyrinthe aussi fascinant que déroutant de l’élégance à l’italienne.
A l’instar de mon précédent ouvrage « The Parisian Gentleman », ce livre n’a pas pour objectif de constituer un catalogue exhaustif et parfait de toutes les maisons transalpines spécialisées dans l’art tailleur et bottier. Dix livres n’y suffiraient sans doute pas. Cet « Italian Gentleman » n’a pas non plus la prétention de raconter avec une précision académique l’histoire du tailoring Italien, de ses racines et de tous ses acteurs, car cela demanderait le travail d’une vie entière pour le faire correctement.
Ce voyage au cœur de l’Italie de l’élégance masculine est plus simplement le compte-rendu d’un voyage personnel de deux ans m’ayant conduit des showrooms les plus luxueux aux ateliers les plus sommaires, des palaces les plus rutilants aux sous-sols les plus crasseux et des usines les plus chirurgicalement organisées aux salons de maitres-tailleurs ayant appris leur art dans les années 30 et 40 et produisant encore dans leur propre salle à manger des vêtements comme plus personne n’en réalise sur terre.
C’est de cet amalgame anarchique, de cette sédimentation complexe, de cette histoire fabuleuse, mais que personne ne raconte de la même manière de l’autre côté des Alpes, que j’ai tenté de rendre compte avec ce livre.
Deux années à essayer de trouver son chemin dans un tel foisonnement humain, cela vous change un homme. En ce qui me concerne, je ne serai plus jamais le même, et pas uniquement parce que depuis un certain séjour de quatre mois à Naples, je parle désormais avec les mains…
— — —
Pré-commande du livre disponible sur Amazon : The Italian Gentleman
304 pages, 447 photos originales.


Wednesday, 12 July 2017

When I was a Photographer by Félix Nadar

The absurd life of Félix Nadar, French portraitist and human flight advocate
Newly translated into English, Nadar’s writings offer us the opportunity to revisit a bizarre and compelling character who took portraits of the Parisian cultural elite

Adam Begley
Wednesday 23 December 2015 09.00 GMT Last modified on Tuesday 2 May 2017 19.08 BST

Nothing about Nadar was ever straightforward, as the photograph on the cover of When I Was a Photographer reveals. There he is, a dapper daredevil in his top hat and floppy cravat, in the basket of a gas balloon, floating high among the clouds, binoculars at the ready, ballast and grapnel hook within easy reach. He’s scanning the horizon, coolly indulging one of his ardent enthusiasms: human flight.

But the photograph is a fake: it was staged in his plush studio on the top floor of 35, Boulevard des Capucines, in the heart of fashionable Paris. The clouds are a painted backdrop, the basket dangles in perfect safety a couple of feet above the floor of the studio. Even that intent gaze is a con: Nadar, who was myopic, could see into the distance only with his specs on.

He was 80 when he published Quand j’étais photographe, now translated for the first time into English and recently published by MIT Press. The book presents a fresh opportunity to consider a bizarre and compelling character whose genius blossomed in mid-19th-century Paris just as Baron Haussmann, under orders from Emperor Napoleon III, was radically reshaping and modernising the French capital by tearing down medieval neighborhoods and laying out broad, tree-lined boulevards.

Half a century before he published When I Was a Photographer, Nadar was already a notorious Paris bohemian and a celebrated caricaturist. Then, in his mid-30s, he abruptly emerged as the world’s first great portrait photographer. He made it his mission to create individual portraits of the entire Parisian cultural elite, from Alexandre Dumas to Honoré Daumier, from Sarah Bernhardt to Hector Berlioz, each one a penetrating likeness that captured what he called the “moral intelligence” of the sitter and demanded to be appreciated as a work of art.

In the age of the selfie, Nadar reminds us of the brave beginnings of a medium that changed the world. A pioneer photographer with any ambition needed to be part scientist (Nadar liked to call the darkroom his laboratory), part artist, part salesman – and yet a whiff of the mountebank clung to the nascent profession.

Though Nadar believed fervently in the artistic value of photography, he also understood that photographs and publicity work hand in hand. The self-portrait-as-balloonist, probably taken in 1864, was a carefully thought out exercise in self-promotion, essentially a publicity shot designed to sell two publications: a memoir and a manifesto.

The memoir was a breathless account of his disastrous flight in a humongous gas balloon he christened Le Géant. He had built it with the express purpose of proving the futility of attempting to navigate in balloons – Nadar believed the future of flight would be in “aero-locomotives”, an idea which baffled his contemporaries. He demonstrated the perils of ballooning with his epic second ascent in Le Géant: it ended with a crash-landing that dragged on for half an hour, as the balloon bounced perilously through a rural landscape, nearly killing everyone aboard. The catastrophe made headlines from Paris to New York.

The manifesto, called Le Droit au Vol (The Right to Flight), is a polemic in favour of “heavier-than-air” aerial navigation – and against the helplessness of balloons wafted here and there by the wind. “When he wants to,” Nadar writes, “man will fly like a bird, better than a bird – because … it is certain that man will be obliged to fly better than a bird in order to fly just as well.” He sent the manuscript to his friend Victor Hugo, who replied in an open letter – modestly addressed “To the Whole World” – in which he hailed Nadar as a prophet and a hero. Nadar evidently agreed; witness the pose he struck in the faux-ballooning photo: Prophetic Hero Aloft.

One of the more amusing chapters in When I Was a Photographer tells the story of how, when Paris was besieged by the Prussians in 1870, Nadar established the world’s first airmail service, organising a fleet of balloons to float sacks of correspondence over enemy lines. There was one problem with the scheme: the mail could get out (as long as the balloon landed beyond the reach of the Prussian forces), but because balloons can’t be steered, return mail couldn’t be sent back in.

The ingenious solution, proposed to Nadar by an anonymous citizen, was photographic – or, to be precise, micrographic. The return correspondence was photographed on microfilm and the tiny negative strapped to a carrier pigeon’s leg. Once safely in Paris, the microfilm was enlarged, the precious letters distributed. “Our Paris, strangled by its anxiety over its absent ones,” Nadar writes, “finally breathed.”

Who was this curious creature? Born Gaspard-Félix Tournachon in Paris in 1820 (Nadar was a nickname that became a pseudonym), he was a promising but erratic student. His father, a publisher and bookseller, went bust when Nadar was 13 and died four years later. From the age of 16, Nadar was essentially on his own; instead of family, he had friends, a network of bohemians who lived in garrets, assembled in cafes, and wrote or painted – or at least aspired to write or paint.

Nadar wanted to write and called himself a man of letters. But in fact he was a hack journalist and a mediocre novelist. He drew with greater success, and by the time he was 30 was better known as a caricaturist than a writer. He spent a great deal of time and energy satirizing the political aspirations of Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, the nephew of Napoleon I, but no amount of ridicule could slow the rise of Louis-Napoléon, and when he proclaimed himself emperor in 1852 he dispensed with the liberal pieties of the Republic and muzzled the press. Political caricature, which time and again had swayed French public opinion, was expressly banned.

Nadar took refuge in the cultural life of the capital. He launched an epic project (he liked to think big): a series of four outsized lithographs depicting 1,200 luminaries, with a separate sheet devoted to writers, playwrights and actors, artists and musicians. He only ever got around to a first sheet, showing the writers and journalists, but the 250 caricatures in the Panthéon-Nadar secured his fame. A financial flop (only 136 copies of the lithograph were sold), it was a critical triumph – “The Panthéon-Nadar will be the joy of every museum, of every intelligent salon” – and made Nadar a household name in Paris.

Ambitious and chronically restless (his friend and fellow bohemian Baudelaire exclaimed: “Nadar, the most astonishing expression of vitality”), he veered off in a new direction as soon as the lithograph was published. Having paid for his feckless younger brother to apprentice with a professional photographer, he helped set him up with his own studio – and in the process caught the bug.

“Photography is a marvelous discovery,” he wrote a couple of years after his debut in 1855, “a science that engages the most elevated intellects, an art that sharpens the wits of the wisest souls – and the practical application of which lies within the capacity of the shallowest imbecile.”

What set his own work apart, in his estimation, was his feel for light and the connection he made with the sitter. The early camera was a bulky box perched on four rickety legs. When the photographer ducked under a black cloth to peer through the lens, the contraption looked like a giant caped spider staring with a single dark eye. Nadar relied on the flow of his famously charming banter to trick the sitter into ignoring this unnerving instrument.

An early portrait of Théophile Gautier shows his friend unbuttoned in every respect, dressed in an exotic-looking robe over a pale shirt left open at the neck. Gautier also sports a loosely knotted, flamboyantly striped scarf; one hand is buried to the wrist down the front of his trousers, an insolent gesture just shy of obscene. He could only be a bohemian, a wild and unconventional artist, the sort who would espouse art for art’s sake (in fact, Gautier coined the phrase). Under a prominent brow and a broad, brightly lit forehead, the eyes, baggy and shaded, gaze off into the distance. It’s not that he’s unaware of the camera; he’s snubbing it.

Nadar had a nickname for his friend Théophile: le Théos, as in the Greek for god. Already celebrated as a poet, novelist, critic, playwright and travel writer, Gautier was not yet, at the time of the photograph, at the peak of his fame. But his pose suggests that he saw no reason to question himself or to doubt that he’d enjoy the approving judgment of posterity.

Gautier was one of hundreds of writers, artists and musicians who posed for Nadar. Their names, however, are not dropped in When I Was a Photographer. The book is a grab-bag of unrelated pieces, some of them only tenuously connected to photography. There are gems, flashes of charm and brilliance, and also long stretches that will puzzle today’s reader. Nadar wrote for his crowd, a plugged-in elite. He never stops to explain himself to the uninitiated.

The most engrossing (and ghoulish) of the chapters, Homicidal Photography, is about a notorious murder case of 1882: a pharmacist who killed his wife’s lover with the help of his wife and brother. Nadar doesn’t identify the perpetrators until the very end, and only indirectly, by giving the name of the pharmacy.

Who killed whom isn’t the issue, as far as Nadar is concerned. For him, the point of the story is the power of a single photograph to shape public opinion. The victim’s corpse, fished from the Seine where it was dumped, was photographed by the police, and the grotesque image inflamed the passions of the crowd. “The whole mob set to barking,” Nadar writes, “howling on this trail of blood.”

None of the other chapters is as dramatic; many are mere anecdotes illustrating the newness of photography and the incomprehension with which it was greeted. Written near the end of his life, When I Was a Photographer is more of a postscript than an introduction. Digressive, allusive, at times almost evasive, it gives the flavour of Nadar as a writer, but not much in the way of practical information.

The bare-bones chronology at the back of the English translation was lifted from the excellent, fact-filled catalogue (now, sadly, out of print, but sometimes available in good used book stores) of the glorious mid-1990s exhibition of Nadar’s work at the Musée d’Orsay and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. That catalogue remains the best way to get to know the enchanting and maddening Nadar.

Another way is to look closely at his photographs. He had future generations in mind when assembling his portrait gallery of eminent contemporaries; he wanted to present posterity with a “convincing and sympathetic likeness” of the people he admired. Roland Barthes (who thought Nadar was the world’s greatest photographer) confessed that his own fascination with photography was “tinged with necrophilia … a fascination with what has died but is represented as wanting to be alive”.

We can’t really know someone by peering at a photograph taken 150 years ago (the same is true of a selfie taken 15 minutes ago). Yet the magic of Nadar’s portraits – their sincerity, their freshness, the unwavering faith they demonstrate in the possibility of capturing a piercingly accurate psychological likeness – tempts us to forget our scepticism, to look past the sepia tint, the old style hats and coats, and our doubts about the veracity of photographic images. We’re tempted, when we first see them, to trust the spark of recognition, that instant when we come face to face with a fellow being who’s alive and knowable.