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Félix Moulin views of Algeria, 1856-1857

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Moulin, Views of Algeria

Biographical/Historical Note

The French photographer, Félix-Jacques-Antoine Moulin was born in 1802. Little is known regarding his training as a photographer, but by 1849 Moulin was selling daguerreotypes of nudes from his Paris studio at 31 bis rue du Faubourg Montmartre. Purportedly created as academy or nude studies for use by artists, Moulin's images seemed to have had a wider audience and his sitters were often teenage girls. In 1851, his premises along with those of Jules Malacrida, an optician and dealer, and Mme. veuve René, another daguerreotypist, were raided. The three were tried together for the possession and sale of "obscene objects" in a closed-door session of the Cour d'assises de la Seine. Moulin was sentenced to a month in prison and fined 100 francs. After his release Moulin reopened his studio using another entrance that went through 23, rue Richer. Throughout his career Moulin continued to produce and exhibit female nudes, protercting himself by placing copies of them on legal deposit at the Bibliothèque Impériale, Paris.

Moulin's photographic output also included portraits, genre subjects, scenic views, and views of monuments. He also printed the work of other photographers, and in 1856 acquired the rights to Roger Fenton's photographs of the Crimean War.

In March 1856, Moulin made an eighteen-month trip to Algeria where he traveled across the provinces of Oran, Algiers, and Constantine. Carrying a letter of introduction from the French Minister of War to help facilitate travel in the country, and accompanied by Alexandre Quinet, a distant relative, Moulin used modestly-sized collodion glass negatives to produce the first extensive body of photographs of Algeria. He recorded the Algerian landscape, urban views, ancient sites, and the recent transformations to the country undertaken by the French, as well as Algeria's diverse indigenous population.

Moulin returned to Paris with more than 450 negatives, 300 of which he published in three volumes entitled L'Algérie photographiée (1858). A further edition comprising 448 photographs and eight panoramas and for which no extant copies have been located was apparently published in 1859. Additionally, extensive excerpts from his letters from Algeria were published in La Lumière and some of his photographs were reproduced as engravings in L'Illustration in 1858.

Having found favor with Napoléon III, as Moulin noted in his prospectus for the 1858 publication ("Cette publication destinée à populariser l'Algérie, a été accueillie avec faveur par S. M. Napoléon III, qui a bien voulu en accepter la dédicace") Moulin's photographs helped to consolidate the territory in the French colonial imagination. The newly created Ministry of Algeria under the emperor's cousin, Prince Napoléon-Jérôme, fostered further interest in Moulin's suite of photographs.

After 1858, Moulin continued to exhibit his photographs, but produced little new work. In 1862, he announced his retirement and put his studio up for sale. He died around 1875.

Sources consulted:

______. "Félix-Jacques-Antoine Moulin (1802 - après 1875)."

Donald Rosenthal, "Moulin, Félix-Jacques-Antoine," In: John Hannavay, editor. Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-century Photography. United Kingdom: Taylor & Francis Group, 2008, vol. II, p.945-946.

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