Les Ballons de Léon Gimpel

Last week in my interview with Mike Maizels for Pinkline Project, I'd mentioned how the Grand Palais in Paris would be an acceptable art venue for exhibiting my satelloon project. Not only was the grand nave one of the few spaces in the art world that could accommodate a 100-foot diameter inflated aluminum sphere; but historically, it was the site of major, early air shows, and it has held giant balloons before.

As new greg.org reader Erik points out in this awesome color [!] photograph, which was taken in 1909 by Léon Gimpel.


I didn't know Gimpel, but the Musee d'Orsay says I should be as familiar with his work as with his Belle Epoque confreres Lartigue and Atget. They staged a retrospective of Gimpel's pioneering photography in 2008. Apparently, he experimented with distorting mirrors, perspectival compositions, and color photography. He published the first color news photo, using the Lumieres' autochrome technology [the same as above] just days after they introduced it. And though I can't find examples of it yet, his aerial photography sounds pretty sweet:



From 1909 onwards L'Illustration commissioned photo reports directly from Gimpel. He stood out from other photojournalists by producing unusual images. At the first major air show, held at Béthény in August 1909, he went up in an airship and so was able to photograph the progress of the aircraft, not from the ground like the other photographers, but from the sky. So, thanks to Gimpel, readers of the magazine had a stunning view of the pioneers of aviation.
From this date, the photographer started to exploit this bird's eye view in order to set himself apart from other reporters and to seduce the press.

[update: found some via fantomatik]

Fortunately, there's a catalogue. Unfortunately, it doesn't look to be readily available in the US. Judging from the cover, though, I could probably ask Ricci Albenda to lend me his copy.


Léon Gimpel (1873-1948), Les audaces d'un photographe [musee-dorsay.fr via ck/ck, the equally awesome tumblr of Swedish designer Claes Källarsson, thanks Erik]
More Gimpel images: La guerre des Ballons de Leon Gimpel [fantomatik]

Since 2001 here at greg.org, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting greg.org that time.

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first published: January 30, 2011.

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