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Self portrait, circa 1860.

André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri (28 March 1819, Paris — 4 October 1889)[1] was a French photographer who started his photographic career as a daguerreotypist but gained greater fame for patenting his version of the carte de visite, a small photographic image which was mounted on a card. Disdéri, a brilliant showman, made this system of mass-production portraiture world famous.


Early life

Disdéri began his working life in a number of occupations, also studying art.[2] He started as a daguerreotypist in Brest in 1848 or 1849 but in 1852 moved to Paris, enabling easy access to people who would be the subjects of his cartes de visite.

Disdéri and the carte de visite

French carte de visite of Nadar.

Photographs had previously served as calling cards,[3] but Disdéri's invention of the paper carte de visite (i.e. "visiting card") photograph first enabled the mass production of photographs. On 22 November 1854 he patented the system of printing ten photographs on a single sheet (although there is no evidence that a system printing more than eight actually materialized).[4] This was the first patent ever for a carte de visite. Disdéri's's cartes de visite were 6×9 cm, about the size of conventional (nonphotographic) visiting cards of the time, and were made by a camera with four lenses and a sliding plate holder; a design inspired by the stereoscopic cameras.[5]

The novelty quickly spread throughout the world. According to a German visitor, Disdéri's studio became "really the Temple of Photography - a place unique in its luxury and elegance. Daily he sells three to four thousand francs worth of portraits".[6]

Certainly Disdéri’s status as a photographer was greatly enhanced when in May 1859 Napoleon III interrupted his march to war to pose for photographs in Disdéri’s studio.[7]

This acclaim, combined with the fact that these photos could be reproduced inexpensively and in great quantity, brought about the decline of the daguerreotype and ushered in a carte de visite craze as they became enormously popular throughout Europe and the United States.[8] So great was the publicity that all of Paris wanted portraits.

Disdéri also invented the twin-lens reflex camera.[8]

The great French photographer Nadar, who was Disdéri's competitor, wrote about the new invention in his autobiographical "Quand j'étais photographe", "about the appearance of Disdéri and Carte de Visite... It spelled disaster. Either you had to succumb - that is to say, follow the trend - or resign."[9]

Later years and death

At the pinnacle of his career, Disdéri was extremely wealthy and renowned; but like another famous photographer, Mathew Brady, he is reported to have died in near poverty.[8]

By the end of his life, Disdéri had become blind, penniless and deaf. He died alone and forgotten on 4 October 1889 in a public hospital in Nice, France.[10] He was a victim of his own invention. The system which he invented and popularized was so easy to imitate that photographers all over the world took advantage of it.


  1. ^ Paris as place of birth: "André Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri" at the Getty.
  2. ^ Wilder, who names the occupations as "commerce, acting and politics".
  3. ^ Wilder.
  4. ^ Date according to Wilder. Provision of ten images in the patent according to McCauley. An eight-image example from 1858 is displayed in this page hosted by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  5. ^ McCauley.
  6. ^ Liesegang, E. Geschichte der Firma Ed. Liesegand, page 8 (1929).
  7. ^ Robert Leggat, "Carte-de-Visite photography", A History of Photography: From its beginnings till the 1920s.
  8. ^ a b c Robert Leggat, "Disdéri, Andre Adolphe Eugene", A History of Photography: From its beginnings till the 1920s.
  9. ^ Nadar. Quand j'étais photographe, ISBN 2742717978
  10. ^ Beaumont Newhall, The history of photograph (1964), p. 54.


  • McCauley, Elizabeth Anne. "Carte de visite." Oxford Companion to the Photograph, ed. Robin Lenman. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-19-866271-8.
  • Wilder, Kelley E. "Disdéri, André-Adolphe-Eugène." Oxford Companion to the Photograph, ed. Robin Lenman. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-19-866271-8.

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