Nadars photography of subterranean Paris: Mapping the urban body

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Félix Nadar, a renowned caricaturist, portrait photographer, and aeronaut, took nearly one hundred albumen prints of the Paris catacombs and sewers by electric light in the early 1860s. More than a demonstration of technical innovation in bringing the mythic underground to light, this crucial archive constitutes a metaphorical mapping of the metabolism of the urban body during Haussmannisation. Nadars work articulates the citys relation to its exclusions-decay and filth-and its struggle to cleanse and regulate human remains and wastes. He not only engaged with historical memory, sanitary reform, and scientific development, but also expanded the aesthetics of the sublime and the uncanny by experimenting with different states of perceptibility and the psychological force of shadows. In the context of topographical photography in the mid nineteenth century, the underground series presents Nadars meaningful elaboration of photographic Romanticism and reveals his attitudes toward the urban transformation and tourist spectacle of Paris.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)233-254
Number of pages22
JournalHistory of Photography
Issue number3
StatePublished - 3 Jul 2014


  • Félix Nadar [Gaspard-Félix Tournachon] (1820-1910)
  • Georges-Eugène Haussmann (1809-91)
  • Gustave Le Gray (1820-84)
  • Paris
  • Romanticism
  • Victor Hugo (1802-85)
  • catacombs
  • modernity
  • sewer system


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