My essay on the 19th-century photographs taken by Félix Nadar in the Paris photographs is included in The Public Domain Review: Selected Essays, Vol. VII! The new book features 12 essays (including one by Philip Pullman!) along with over 100 illustrations. Read all about how the catacombs were a solution to burial overcrowding, became an unexpected tourist attraction, and were captured in startling images—with innovative techniques—by the eccentric photographer Nadar:
Nadar succeeded in creating the first photographic documentation of this realm of the dead. The geometry of the walls of skulls is revealed in stark contrasts; long shots down tunnels give the viewer a sense of claustrophobic unease, with their framing of the low ceilings and seemingly endless bones. There are even photographs that highlight the grim labor of hauling and stacking the skeletal remains in this space. Because the exposure time could be as long as eighteen minutes, Nadar used a mannequin instead of a live worker.