In 1839, Hippolyte Bayard invented photography. And nobody cared.

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People usually associate the birth of photography with Louis Daguerre’s Daguerreotype. His process became the first widespread method of photography after France revealed it to the world on August 19, 1839. But there were actually multiple inventors of photography, and one of them was an amateur French tinkerer named Hippolyte Bayard. Even before Daguerre’s process was revealed, Bayard had achieved photographic results.

However, François Arago, the chair of the French Academy of Sciences, overlooked Bayard’s accomplishment and elevated Daguerre’s instead. And as a protest to this perceived injustice, Bayard took a self-portrait depicting himself as an unidentified man in the Paris Morgue who took his own life. This image is not only the first staged photo, it’s also an early example of photography depicting something non-literal and symbolic, laying the groundwork for the medium to be used as a form of creative expression.

Bayard’s photographs at the French Society of Photography:

The Drowned Inventor, Jillian Lerner:
The Impossible Photograph, Michal Sapir:
The New History of Photography, Michal Frizot:

(If you or someone you know is considering self-harm, please seek help through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.)

Darkroom is a series from Vox producer Coleman Lowndes that digs into stories of the past, one photograph at a time. Watch all the episodes here: is a news website that helps you cut through the noise and understand what’s really driving the events in the headlines. Check out

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44 thoughts on “Why this photography pioneer faked his own death”

  1. 19th century France is generally super fascinating. The long century of course from 1789 to 1914. It was a land filled with new ideas who did its best to find its footing in the modern world and all its steps lead to much progess in state administration, scientifc discoveries and such. So many different styles of goverments were tried and much of was worthy to bring to all societies found its way there.

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