Hippolyte Bayard First Ever Hoax Photography

Self-Portrait in the Garden

Bayard’s Self-Portrait in the Garden

With the proliferation of Photoshop users out and about these days, practically anyone can create –with varying degrees of believability– hoax photography. I wondered how far back this practice went, and must admit I was a little surprised to learn that the first instance occurred not long after the photographic process was initially patented.

In the late 1830’s the rush to patent photomechanical reproduction was on. The most famous names in this arena were Louis Daguerre and Henry Talbot. Daguerre was a Frenchman who is known for his daguerreotype. A process he went public with in 1939 (without announcing any details). Talbot was a British scientist who –working independently from Daguerre– announced his calotype process in 1841. In 1842 he received the Rumford Medal of the Royal Society for his discoveries. There were patenting controversies between Daguerre and Talbot, their representatives, and countries, but to this day both men are widely considered fathers of photography.

Enter Hippolyte Bayard. Bayard was a French civil servant who experimented with photography in his spare time. In early 1939 Ballard had come up with his own technique of creating photographic images, which he called the direct positive process. Like Daguerre’s method, Bayard’s used a direct-positive process; like Talbot’s, the images were produced on paper. While Daguerre and Bayard were likely unaware of Talbot, they were rivals of each other (think Edison and Tesla). Bayard was prepared in early 1839 to reveal his process to the French Academy of Sciences. He was persuaded by François Arago to postpone his announcement. Arago was perpetual secretary of the Academy. He was also a friend of Daguerre’s and had seen a demonstration of the daguerreotype. Certainly a conflict of interests, and a move that allowed Daguerre to publicly unveil his process and steal Bayard’s thunder.

To protest the injustice he felt Arago had subjected him to, Bayard created the first hoax photograph entitled, Self Portrait as a Drowned Man. It was intended to make people believe he had taken his own life. On the back of the photograph Bayard wrote:

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.

Bayard of course, didn’t committ suicide, but continued to photograph until his death nearly fifty years later. He was the first photographer to be granted a mission héliographique by the Commission des Monuments Historiques to document architecture in France.

Hoax photography - Bayard

Hoax Photography Begins: Bayards Self-Portrait as a Drowned Man. 1840