15 February 2019
In his book, ‘Levels of Life’, Julian Barnes introduces us to Felix Tournachon, one of the first balloonists. He was affectionately known by the nickname, Nadar. ‘His gusts of energy and flames of hair seemed enough to lift a balloon into the air by themselves.’ he says of the eccentric.
Interestingly, he was also interested in photography and gained a reputation as a very skilled maker of photographic portraits. But Barnes informs us that Nadar brought these two disparate interests together.
He was the first person to take his camera into the balloon, build a dark room in its basket, prepare the plates whilst the balloon was in the sky and take a photograph of the earth from the air. No one had ever thought of it before!
It’s common place for us. We take our i-phones everywhere and photograph everything and anything, the mundane as well as the unexpected, the boring details of our eating and drinking and the fantastic sights we see on our travels.
But Nadar was the first – and initially he had little success. He persevered and managed to reproduce a faint image – two pigeons on a farm roof, a stationary cart, a man looking up at the balloon!
No one else had ever been able to capture a view of the earth from this perspective. Barnes sees in it a coming together of two things – truth as in the photographic picture and magic as in the adventure of ballooning high above the earth. For him ‘Love is the meeting point of truth and magic.’