Louis Vignes, son of the Master of the Mint at Bordeaux, was a career navy officer. After joining the Navy School in 1846, he had a brilliant career in the navy, which he left with the rank of admiral. He was an amateur user of the calotype, but it is not known who taught him. During a journey, lasting from June 1859 to October 1862, which took him from the south of France to Lebanon, via Sicily, Louis Vignes took 52 negatives on small format paper, and made his own prints on salted paper. It is a personal, documentary series, but of very great quality. Vignes chose to depict above all landscapes, monuments and sites. His prints with their bold tones have been particularly well preserved, but were never distributed or commented on during his lifetime. They moved directly from his family’s archives to the collections of the BnF.

It was this interest in photography, this ease of handling and this experience of using it in Mediterranean countries that led his ranking superiors to recommend him to the Duc de Luynes (1802-1867) when, in early 1864, he was looking for a photographer for an ambitious archaeological expedition, who would also be a pleasant travelling companion and, as the Duke specified, a man of the world.

During this journey, which lasted from February to June 1864, the Duc de Luynes was accompanied, as well as by Louis Vignes, by Dr Combes and the geologist Louis Lardet. After the departure of the Duc de Luynes, Vignes continued his journey alone from June to October 1864, in order to take all the photographs needed for the major publishing project designed to report on the expedition. A scion of the oldest French nobility, and with a considerable fortune, the Duc de Luynes was one of the greatest scholars and art lovers of the 19th century. A numismatist, archaeologist and collector, he presented some of the objects he had assembled to the department of Coins, Medals and Antiquities of the BnF. The Duc also took a close interest in photography right from its beginnings, and frequented the Société française de photographie, founded in 1854.

So it was that, during this trip to the Orient, he wanted to form a rigorous union between his various passions. The photographs taken by Louis Vignes after his indications were very carefully reproduced by the photographer Charles Nègre (1820-1880), the inventor of a rotogravure procedure which was hard to use, but produced particularly fine results. For this trip, Vignes only used collodion glass plates, with more precise effects and much easier to use for publishing purposes.

The Bibliothèque nationale de France conserves a particularly rich collection of Louis Vignes’s work: the 52 photographs from his first journey, a large album of original prints taken during the expedition with the Duc de Luynes in a luxury binding, presented to the photographer by the Duc and, finally, from the Luynes family, Charles Nègre’s rotogravure trials for the final publication, produced after the Duc’s premature death in Rome in 1867; and of course the four albums published by the Comte de Vogüé between 1871 and 1874 which marked an important step in the history of books illustrated by photography (digital document accessible on the site of the library of INHA). 

It should be noted that the album conserved in the department of Stamps and Photography contains more family photographs, which were not meant for publication, and are presumably travel souvenirs, such as the shot of the salon of Aimé Péretié (1808-1882), the dragoman of the French consul in Beirut and an amateur archaeologist. On the piano, there can be seen the score of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and an album of photographs on a round table.

After this journey, Louis Vignes did not pursue his work as an amateur photographer, and turned entirely towards his navy career.

Légende de l'image: Beirut. Ruined forts at the entrance: positive photograph. Louis Vignes, 1860.