LACAN, ERNEST (1828–1879)
French editor and critic
Although Ernest Lacan never practiced photography, he was a central voice in the international photographic community during the second half of the 19th century. As editor and writer for the two leading French photog- raphy journals, La Lumière [The Light] and Le Moniteur de la Photographie [The Monitor of Photography], from 1851 to 1879 Lacan helped shape the terms of the debate around photographic practice and theory as he strove to articulate photography’s cultural significance.
Lacan was born in Paris, France, in 1828, the son of Auguste Théophile Lacan and Marie Josèphe Monodé Devassaux. He studied painting under the artist Léon Cogniet and apprenticed in his studio in the 1840s. Cogniet was a highly regarded history painter with a strong interest in photography and Lacan later credited Cogniet’s enthusiasm for stirring his own interest in the new medium. It was with Cogniet’s encouragement that in 1849 Lacan first envisioned creating a photography journal, after having decided to give up painting for writing.
In 1851 it was another painter and member of the Société Héliographique, Jules-Claude Ziégler, who helped Lacan start La Lumière, which first appeared on 9 February under the photography society’s auspices. When the society dissolved several months later, pho- tography supplier Alexis Gaudin bought the weekly and appointed Lacan secretary (i.e., manager), then editor-in-chief.
As Europe’s first photography journal, La Lumière achieved a significant readership in France and interna- tionally, and throughout the 1850s Lacan used its pages to cover technological advances and historical issues, as well as to promote photography within the greater intellectual and artistic community. Dedicated to “Fine
Arts, Heliography and Sciences,” it sought a broad au- dience of artists, scientists and scholars as it centered on photography but also encompassed other, carefully chosen topics like the annual Paris Salon.
In his writings and editorial policy, Lacan fought fiercely to defend photography against what he saw as a common misconception that “imagination and artistic feeling play no part in the results.” While he exalted photography’s many applications, he sought to downplay its commercial reputation, taking pains to distinguish the medium’s “amateurs,” “artists,” and “savants” from the legions of “simple photographers” who toiled in the portrait trade.
Throughout the first half of the 1850s, Lacan wrote regular photography reviews for the journal, addressing the work of some of the most important photographers of the epoch, including Charles Nègre, Roger Fenton, Edouard Baldus, and Olympe Aguado. While Lacan’s colleague, the critic Francis Wey, wrote more generally for the journal on the aesthetics of photography and art, Lacan’s reviews mapped out photography’s artistic terrain by analyzing specific works with a scrutiny of form and a depth of commentary previously reserved for the other arts. He was among the first to claim that photography had its own schools and styles, and although he believed these initially derived from the different photographic processes, he was convinced that photography “permits each [artist] to take—ac- cording to his tastes and the nature of his talent— a different path.”
Lacan was reluctant to situate photography squarely within the fine arts, but he saw it as closely related to them rather than an inferior substitute, and his reviews would contribute to securing the photograph’s place as an aesthetic object. Even if he never ventured to incor- porate its most obvious characteristics— like its repro- ducibility or mechanical means—into his assessments, his criticism was exceptional in challenging the limits of what could be considered artistry by including works beyond the scope of other critics. In reviewing the images of English asylum patients taken by Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond, for example, Lacan boldly declared that they “can be ranked, in their execution, among the most beautiful photographic productions.”
Given his links to Parisian art circles, Lacan played host to regular photography salons in his Paris home in the 1850s. These informal gatherings bolstered the French photographic community, especially during the crucial period between the dissolution of the Société héliographique in 1851 and the founding of the Société française de la photographie in 1854. Open to an eclec- tic mix of photographers, writers and other artists, his salons usually included displays of recent photographs made by guests, thereby helping to reinforce the link between photography and aesthetic discourse.
In 1856 Lacan published Esquisses Photographiques [Photographic Sketches], a collection of several of his La Lumière reviews as well as articles he had written elsewhere on photography’s origins and uses. The book was a turning point in Lacan’s career, as he would thereafter concentrate his writing more on technical innovations and business reporting. He also took on numerous outside projects, like contributing introduc- tions to books on photography by Claude-Félix Abel Niepce de Saint-Victor (1855) and Alphonse Louis Poitevin (1862), editing a popular weekly, Le Moniteur Universel [The Universal Monitor], becoming scientific editor of La Vie Moderne [The Modern Life] (1859) and serving as French correspondent for The Photographic News in London.
At the end of 1860, after disagreements with Gaudin, Lacan left La Lumière to co-found a competing journal, Le Moniteur de la Photographie, with Paul Liesegang, German publisher of Photographisches Archiv [Pho- tographic Archive]. Subtitled “International Journal of the Progress of the New Art,” the fortnightly periodical first appeared on 15 March 1861. Primarily addressed at professional photographers, Lacan augmented the editorial staff by inviting respected commercial photog- raphers and printers like Antoine Claudet, Louis Désiré Blanquart-Evrard and André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri to contribute articles. Lacan wrote a regular column, reported on technical matters and detailed new applica- tions of photography in fields like criminal investigation and military strategy.
While he continued to review major photography exhibitions like that held at the Universal Exposition, Lacan was less concerned with individual photogra- phers or styles. Perhaps reflecting his journal’s stronger commercial slant, he expounded on aesthetic trends within the medium as a whole and often attributing
these to technological innovations rather than personal creativity.
In 1870, Liesegang left Le Moniteur de la Photogra- phie and Lacan became sole proprietor. He fell gravely ill in the summer of 1878 but continued writing and editing up to his death the following January. His long- time colleague, Léon Vidal, succeeded him as editor and the journal remained in print under various owners until 1914.
Although the writings of other early critics of pho- tography—like Charles Baudelaire and Lady Elizabeth Eastlake—have received greater attention, Lacan’s work as a whole provides a comprehensive view of the evolving attitudes and aims that marked photography’s first decades. His versatility and energy, not to mention his enduring faith in photography’s benefits to society, were rarely matched in his lifetime.
Emmanuel Ernest Auguste Lacan was born in Paris, France in 1828 to Auguste Théophile Lacan and Marie Josèphe Monodé Devassaux. He studied painting un- der Léon Cogniet and apprenticed in Cogniet’s studio in the 1840s. He worked as a librarian before turning to journalism in 1851, helping found the photography journal, La Lumière, where he was editor and a regular contributor until 1860. He published a collection of his photography writings, Esquisses Photographiques (1856), and contributed to several books on photogra- phy. He also published poetry and fiction, including Le Mort de l’Archevêque de Paris [The Death of the Archbishop of Paris] (1849) and Les Petites Gens [The Little People] (1870). He edited and wrote for Le Moniteur Universel from the 1850s through the 1870s, was scientific editor for La Vie Moderne (1859), and contributed to other journals published by the Société des Publications Périodiques. He was also a correspon- dent for The Photographic News. Lacan co-founded the weekly journal Le Moniteur de la Photographie in 1861, which he published until his death. He was mar- ried to Camille Valentine Salle and died in Paris on 18 January, 1879.
LAFAYETTE, JAMES (JAMES STACK LAUDER) (1853–1923)
James Stack Lauder (1853–1923), photographer, un- der the name James Lafayette, was born in Dublin on 22 January 1853, the eldest son in the family of six sons and four daughters of Edmund Stanley Lauder (1824–1891), photographer, and his wife Sarah Stack (1828–1913). Edmund was a pioneering and successful photographer who had opened a daguerreotype studio in Dublin in 1853.
In 1880 James Stack Lauder founded his own pho- tography studio, using for the first time the professional name of James Lafayette “late of Paris” and naming his studio variously “Jacques Lafayette,” “J. Lafayette,” and “Lafayette” as an indication of his artistic training in the City of Lights. He was joined in the new business by his three brothers, all of whom were experienced photographers who had worked in their father’s studio. In 1884 he was elected member of the Photographic Society of Great Britain, and thereafter his entries in the multitudinous photographic competitions around Britain and in Europe started winning him medals for “exceptionally fine portraits.”
By 1885, the studio’s output was praised in print by the Photographic Society of Great Britain as “very beau- tiful, being distinguished for delicacy of treatment...” and Lafayette’s early experiments with hand-colouring produced images that were described as “permanent carbon photographs painted in water-colour on porce- lain,” and the new specialist photographic press waxed generally lyrical over the fine quality of “Monsieur Lafayette’s” portraiture. His work was noted to be of the highest technical excellence. His poses were graceful and good, the flesh was rendered as flesh and the folds of the drapery were rich and effective in the “Rembrandt style.” As well as producing a number of faux rustic and cloying images of mother and child in the high Victorian style, Lafayette registered many idylls for copyright at Stationers’ Hall. A typical image of this genre, half photograph, half line drawing, made as late as June 1894 has elements of highly sanitised fully-clothed Victorian
eroticism depicting, in Lauder’s own words, a “group of two figures, girl on ladder gathering apple blossom, man under tree receiving same in his hat, called ‘Blos- soming Hopes.’”
During the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, held in Chicago, the foremost German professor of pho- tography, H.W. Vogel, described a portrait of Lafayette’s work as the “grandest photographs... He shows great skill in finely arranged single pictures and groups. A suspended angel, almost life-size and taken from life, is remarkable.” This floating angel could be considered a rudimentary beginning of special effects photography and it was not until decades later that an employee di- vulged that the image had been made by photographing the subject lying down on a large sheet of glass over a painted background, so adjusted and so illuminated as to give the proper idea of perspective and the draperies having been arranged on the surface of the glass to give the impression of flight.
In the studio’s commercial portraits, Lafayette fol- lowed the recipe well-tested from the early days of the daguerreotype when having an image made of oneself suddenly became affordable and no longer the preserve of active patrons of painters. As the subjects of portraits became democratised, the commercial photographer faced the situation of having to make flattering pho- tographs of people who had no experience of sitting for a portrait and Lafayette’s art of posing and skill in cropping the prints from his 12" × 15" glass negatives engendered both commercial success and, on 6 March 1887, the grant of a Royal Warrant as “Photographer to Her Majesty at Dublin.”
The Royal Warrant, which was subsequently renewed by King Edward VII and George V, conferred enormous prestige, and the style and title of “Photographer Royal” on the studio advertising and promotional literature, proved extremely useful in attracting new clients. The business expanded rapidly in the 1890s. Studios were established in Glasgow (1890), Manchester (1892), and with the expected business bulge in Jubilee year (1897) a branch was opened on London’s fashionable Bond Street. Subsequently another studio was established in Belfast (1900). In 1898 all the Lauder family businesses were incorporated and shares in the newly established Lafayette Ltd. were floated on the Stock Exchange.
Lafayette’s commercial success coincided with developments in the half-tone printing process, which resulted in the proliferation of illustrated weekly magazines. The firm was one of the first to recognize the opportunities offered by syndicating photographs and portraits of his favourite subjects—“some of the great ladies of the land”—were published in such great numbers as full page covers in The Queen, The Tatler, and Chic, inter alia, that The Lady’s Realm in 1900 stated outright: “It is well-nigh impossible to open any magazine or paper which contains portraits of present- day celebrities without seeing at least one reproduction of a photograph by the well-known Lafayette house [with its] ‘special Lafayette silver process’.” By 1897, the fame of his portraits of the great society beauties, such as the Countess of Warwick, Daisy Princess of Pless, and Queen Alexandra, led the critic Levin Carnac (pseudonym of the author George Chetwynd Griffith- Jones) to muse in Pearson’s Magazine in 1897 that it was “Lafayette’s blissful lot to photograph more of the most beautiful and distinguished women of Europe than anyone else.” The male was not forgotten and portraits of distinguished men and from society, the stage, and politics appeared prominently in the various new publi- cations, frequently providing the frontispiece and setting the tone for the publication.
The sale of photographic postcards had also become big business, and certain images by Lafayette, such as Queen Alexandra in her Doctor of Music robes, registered for copyright on 28 April 1885, sold over eighty thousand copies by 1900. The Lafayette range of postcards included many images of the British royal family as well as luminaries of the stage, including a seminal series of Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet from her London season of 1899.
On 2 July 1897, to mark Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, Louisa, Duchess of Devonshire (1832–1911), one of London’s foremost political hostesses, held a costume ball with around seven hundred guests ranging from royalty down to aristocracy and a commission went out to Lafayette, who had opened a studio on London’s fashionable Bond Street with “patent fog-clearing equip- ment” earlier that year, to set up a tent in the garden to photograph the guests in costume during the Ball. This would have been a formidable commission for James Stack Lauder, and evidence from the extant negatives shows that he had transported from the Bond Street studio a variety of backdrops and props and, of course, photo- graphic equipment. His remit was to photograph guests who would be in costumes ranging from mythological and ancient Greek down to renaissance and oriental char- acters. In order to capture the sense of event and location, the studio prepared a new backdrop representing the very lawn and gardens of Devonshire House complete with statuary. Approximately 162 negatives exist from this event, many of which were published by the Duchess of Devonshire in a private album and which represent the studio’s largest output from a single photographic session. A copy of this album is held by the National Portrait Gallery, London.
The Lafayette studio, which survived the vicissitudes of World War I and Irish Independence, finally closed in 1952—the Lauder family having been in the business con- tinuously from 1853. A storeroom of negatives, possibly representing the press archive of the studio, was discovered
in the attic of a building in Fleet Street in 1968 during building works. The archive was eventually handed to the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, which kept 3,500 glass plate and celluloid negatives dating from 1885 to c 1937. The rest of the collection, consisting of circa forty thousand nitrate negatives from the 1920s to the early 1950s, was given to the National Portrait Gallery.
During the heyday of the Lafayette studio, the ranks of sitters included most of the British royal family, many European royalties, a significant number of maharajas, and official visitors from the Far East. The quality of the studio’s portraiture peaked between 1897 and 1920 and was an inspiration to the following generation of pho- tographers, who were more willing to experiment with new styles of lighting and posing. Of the thousands of images credited to Lafayette and which are recognisably portraits in the Lafayette style, only 649 photographs registered for copyright before 1912 bear the signature of James Lauder as author.
James Stack Lauder died at the Hôpital St. Jean, Bruges on 20 August 1923.