The urbanization projects of nineteenth-century France called on photography to record not only the ornamental details of a building’s exterior but also the progression of its construction. Lafon mastered this type of industrial imagery, a pursuit for which he was awarded a medal at the 1874 exhibition of the Société française de photographie. This photograph succinctly captures the construction of a building that integrated modern techniques of iron and steel-frame construction with traditional materials like brick masonry. In addition to showing the progress of construction, the image offers a striking tableau of modern labor. Tradesmen in dark clothing perch atop the razor-thin beams and cut dramatic silhouettes against the sky, while unskilled laborers cloaked in loose white smocks fidget and sway almost irreverently along wooden scaffolding, indicating the seconds-long exposure of Lafon’s large wet-plate camera. Left of center, in a tailored jacket and short-brimmed hat, an onsite engineer appears to handle a rolled-up drafting sheet that, like Lafon’s photograph, would reveal the building’s path from initial scheme to final shape.
["An antique dealer who bought them from another antique dealer"]; [Laurent Herschtritt, Six Fours Les Plages, France]; [Charles Isaacs, New York, 2007]
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Johnson Gallery, Selections from the Collection 57," August 22, 2011–January 9, 2012.