Sons of a heraldic painter who experimented with the daguerreotype, Louis-Auguste Bisson (French, 1814-1876) and his brother Auguste-Rosalie Bisson (French, 1826-1900) often collaborated throughout their photographic careers as “Bisson Frères”, one of the best known and prolific photographic firms of the period. Louis-Auguste learned the daguerreotype process directly from Daguerre and began photographing professionally in 1840. Over the next thirty years, the brothers produced portrait, architectural, and landscape photographs throughout Europe and Egypt.
Louis-Auguste had originally trained to be an architect, but soon the new art seized his imagination. Before taking up photography on paper, the elder Bisson’s animal portraits, particularly those of horses, are skillful examples of the daguerreotype process. These were likely encouraged by Rosa Bonheur, the animal painter, who had been close with the Bissons since childhood.
In the mid-1850s, the Bisson Frères were regarded in the same league as the most eminent photographers of architecture. They made views of the great monuments from Roman antiquity to the cathedrals of France. Their large photographs of Chartres from the late 1850s focus on a selected group of details using dramatic lighting to deepen the shadows and enhance the sculptural quality. By 1860, they were making breathtaking views high up in the Alps. They had a number of professional studios throughout their working life, one of which, on the upscale Boulevard des Capucines, was in the same building used by their contemporary, Gustave Le Gray.
The exhibition Les Frères Bisson photographs. De fleche en cime 1840-1870 was held at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris from 15 June – 29 August 1999. The German version, Die Brüder Bisson. Aufstieg und Fall eines Fotografenunternehmens im 19. Jahrhundert was held at the Museum Folkwang, Essen from 7 February – 28 March 1999, and at the Fotomuseum im Müncher Stadtmuseum, Munich from 11 April – 30 May 1999.
Sylvie Aubenas, Milan Chlumsky, Bernard Marbot, Anne McCauley, Marie-Noëlle Leroy, Les Frères Bisson photographs. De fleche en cime 1840-1870 (Paris and Essen: Bibliothèque nationale de France and Museum Folkwang, 1999)