Napoleon III’s reign (1852-1870) coincided with the spectacular development of photography.
 
 
Napoleon III wanted to make his reign one of scientific and social progress, of industry and art; France would recover its place of glory among the great European powers. Photography, symbol of technical progress, would capture the image of a modern reign.
 
  While the official art of the Second Empire clumsily wavered between pomp and pastiche, these fascinatingly timeless works show nothing of it and their modernity has become classic.
Among the photographers favoured by the regime, we find some of the greatest: the Bisson brothers, Edouard Baldus,
Charles Nègre,
  Gustave Le Gray,
  Adolphe Braun,
Charles Aubry,
Désiré Charnay,
Léon Méhédin,
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Hippolyte Collard,
Louis de Clercq and a few others.
From this period on, a shared belief brings together photographers and the powers that be: a faith in the value of visual testimony and the power of conviction specific to a photographic image.

The confrontation of the works with the political stakes that encouraged the development of photography, sheds light on an essential part of their meaning.
 
The BnF, heir to royal and imperial collections since Charles V, is putting on exhibit the albums making up Napoleon III’s collection until 16 May, 2004.


Bibliothèque nationale de France
site Richelieu
Galerie de photographie
58, rue de Richelieu, Paris IIe
from february 18 to may 16 2004

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