The legendary Nadar had many faces: journalist, bohemian, left-wing agitator, playwright, caricaturist, and aeronaut.
Gaspard-Félix Tournachon was born in April 1820 in Paris. His father was a printer and bookseller. Nadar began to work as a caricaturist and novelist and became a member of a Parisian Boheme. His friends picked a nickname for him: Tournadar, which later became Nadar.
Early in 1854, a banker friend proposed Nadar to engage in a portrait photography business. The new collodion-on-glass negatives produced portraits as sharp as daguerreotypes, but more easily and in multiple copies.
In 1854 he opened a photographic studio at 113 rue St. Lazare. Portrait photography was going through a period of rapid change, and Nadar preferred natural daylight. In 1886 he did what may be the first photo-report. Nadar’s atelier attracted the bourgeois clientele of the boulevard.
In 1858, he became the first person to take aerial photographs. He was thus the first person to photograph from the air with his balloons, as well as the first to photograph underground, in the Catacombs of Paris. In 1867, he published the first magazine to focus on air travel: L'Aéronaute.
In 1863, Nadar commissioned the prominent balloonist Eugène Godard to construct an enormous balloon, 60 metres (196 ft) high and with a capacity of 6,000 m3 (210,000 cu ft), and named Le Géant (The Giant) that later inspired Jules Verne's Five Weeks in a Balloon. Nadar was also the inspiration for the character of Michael Ardan in Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon.
In 1862, Jules Verne and Nadar established a Société pour la recherche de la navigation aérienne, which later became La Société d'encouragement de la locomotion aérienne au moyen du plus lourd que l'air (The Society for the Encouragement of Aerial Locomotion by Means of Heavier than Air Machines).
He photographed underground with artificial light, encouraged the development of aerial navigation, and flew the biggest balloon ever built, the Géant. Nadar died in 1910, aged 89. He was buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.