Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey was born into a wealthy French landowning family in Langres, Burgundy on October 21, 1804. After graduating from college in Langres in 1826, he studied drawing and then went to Paris, where he took painting classes at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. While there, he met fellow painting student Jules Ziegler, who shared his interest in the newly invented daguerreotype. Mr. Girault de Prangey's early photographs reflect the influences of Louis-Jacques Mande Daguerre and Hippolyte Bayard. While experimenting with watercolors, he began exploring the photographic possibilities of his luminous drawings. In 1834 (or 1836), he became one of the founders of the Langres Archaeological Society, and this involvement led to his fascination with Moorish architecture and art. He traveled throughout Spain to study regional architecture, and during this period, his painting Promenade et tours d'enceinte de l'Alhambra was exhibited at the Salon. In 1841, he published Essai sur l'architecture des Arabes et des Mores en Espagne, en Sicile et en Barbarie, and began experimenting with photography, capturing images of Paris and famous landmarks such as the Tuileries and Notre Dame Cathedral.
Mr. Girault de Prangey relied upon his family's fortune to finance extensive excursions through Syria, Turkey, Egypt, the Palestine, and Greece. During a three-year-period, he used a variety of cameras, lenses, and equipment to produce more than 800 photographs, which are regarded as the first documented images of the Middle East and the Mediterranean. His full-plate exposures of the Acropolis and the Parthenon are believed to be the first of their kind. To photograph the Parthenon, he positioned himself and his camera to at a northern angle and was able to eliminate any perspective distortions by focusing upon its columns. Unfortunately, he had to photograph Islamic sacred structures at a distance in accordance with Muslim custom.
He brought his daguerreotypes back to to Langres and used them to compose lithographs that were published in a limited edition text entitled Monuments arabes d'Egypte, de Syrie, et d'Asie Mineure dessines et mesures de 1842 a 1845 (Arab Monuments of Egypt, Syria, and Asia Minor Drawn and Measured from 1842 to 1845). Surprisingly, his photography was never exhibited publicly.
During the 1850s, Mr. Girault de Prangey concentrated on mostly on botany, but his photographic experimentation – which now included stereoscopic views – continued for the next decade. However, because his impressive archive of photographs had never been exhibited even for the half-century celebration of the invention of photography in 1889, his important contributions were largely forgotten. On December 7, 1892, Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey died in his French villa at the age of 88. In 2003, several of his daguerreotypes were auctioned in London, with one work purchased by Qatar's Sheik Saud Al-Thani for the record price of $922,488.
1987 Africa Then: Photographs, 1840-1918 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf), p. 165.
2012 De Prangey, Joseph-Philibert Girault (1804-1892). (URL: http://dating-au.com/de-prangey-joseph-philibert-girault-1804-1892/).
2013 Photographer: J.P Girault de Prangey (URL: http://www.lineature.com/en/9_jp-girault-de-prangey).
2004 Photographers of Genius at the Getty (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Trust), pp. 20-23.
2006 Photography: A Cultural History (London: Lawrence King Publishing Ltd.), p. 54.
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