Self Portrait as a Drowned Man
One of the earlier photo-pioneers, Hippolyte Bayard (1807–1887) was persuaded to postpone announcing his photographic processes to the French Academy of Sciences by François Arago, a friend of Louis Daguerre, who invented the rival daguerreotype process. Arago’s dealings cost Bayard the recognition as one of the principal inventors of photography. He eventually gave details of the process to the French Academy of Sciences on February 24, 1840 in return for money to buy better equipment.
As a reaction to the injustice he felt he had been subjected to, Bayard created the first staged photograph entitled, Self Portrait as a Drowned Man. In the image, he pretends to have committed suicide, sitting and leaning to the right. Bayard wrote on the back of his most notable photograph:
“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.”
He managed to send the death picture to his antagonists with this suicide note attached to the back. Two years later, the Societe d’Encouragement pour I’Industrie Nationale gave Bayard 3,000 francs. Today, death features large in war, disaster and famine photography and it usually sends a stronger message. With a 12 minute exposure, Bayard did just that by playing dead 170 years ago.