Grey Room

“The Idea Was in the Air”: Nadar’s Aerial Media

Emily Doucet

Nadar (Gaspard-Félix Tournachon). Maquette d’hélicoptère à vapeur de Ponton d’Amécourt (Model of Ponton d’Amécourt’s steam helicopter), 1863. Reproduction courtesy the département des Estampes et de la photographie, Bibliothèque nationale de France.


The polymathic photographer Nadar ( Gaspard-Félix Tournachon) is often credited with producing the “first” aerial photograph. The evidence, like the media, is mixed. The obsession of Nadar with all things aerial is well known. Less discussed is the relationship between his roles as aerial historian, collector, promoter, and inventor. Nadar’s aerial media need to be apprehended via three vectors: an aerostatic media campaign that aimed to destroy the past from above; an archival project on the nonlinear archaeology of flying technologies; and a speculative media campaign that actively sought its own remediation. Just as in the story of the “first” aerial photograph, histories of technology could be produced with visual media.