What is it about?

This article examines the social impact of one specific type of image in nineteenth-century Parisian culture—photographic portraiture—which rose to popularity during the Second Empire. Specifically, it examines texts by Baudelaire and Zola that feature women obsessed with collecting people’s photographs and maintains that what impels their women characters to gaze endlessly at portraits originates in the New Paris of that period. In a society of advertising posters and spectacles, the artificial representation of human beings—the portrait ends up replacing real individuals. Baudelaire and Zola’s Parisians venerate their portraits, which they raise to celebrity status. Building on the work of Guy Debord, this essay argues that one can see the “power of images” in its nascent form in the literary works of Baudelaire and Zola that explore the seductive power of images. Their representations of society’s preoccupation with the visual foreshadows our own obsession with images in an increasingly digital culture, and ultimately, our reliance on social media, such as “portraits” on Facebook.

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Why is it important?

With the launch of its first iPhone in 2007, Apple gave consumers pocket-size cameras. This article brings to light a key moment in the rise of photography and mass distribution of images, and makes connection between nineteenth-century Parisis' obsession with visually pleasing representation and our own immersion in the digital culture of the image, in which we rely on artificial images to experience the “real” world.

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This page is a summary of: Collections de portraits : des femmes obsédées par une nouvelle réalité, Australian Journal of French Studies, July 2020, Liverpool University Press, DOI: 10.3828/ajfs.2020.21.
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