What Role Did Photography Play For The Artist Edgar Degas?

Photography was a crucial medium for Edgar Degas that informed his painting and pastels. He took up photography later in life, using it to explore form, composition, and the effects of light. Degas photographed models, often in unconventional poses echoing his paintings, as well as family and friends. His photographic experiments fed into his artwork.

What Role Did Photography Play For The Artist Edgar Degas?” Degas embraced photography as a dynamic creative tool starting in the late 1880s. He was drawn to the possibilities of the new technology, using it side-by-side with his established painting practice. Degas photographed extensively, finding inspiration through the camera lens.

Edgar Degas incorporated photography into his artistic process in groundbreaking ways. He shot hundreds of photos of friends, models, and everyday scenes, creatively manipulating prints in the darkroom. Degas brought a painterly sensibility to his photographs, exploiting light, framing, and gesture.

What Types Of Photos Did Degas Take?

Degas photographed a range of subjects, including models, dancers, and everyday scenes around Paris. He shot models and dancers in unconventional poses that echoed the asymmetrical compositions and unusual vantage points of his paintings. Degas also candidly photographed family, friends, and acquaintances, experimenting with the snapshot aesthetic. 

His photographic portfolio reveals his fascination with exploring the camera’s potential.

In addition to photographing people, Degas photographed locations such as the Louvre and Parisian cafés. He was drawn to crowded interior spaces lit artificially with lamps or stage lighting.

How Did Degas Manipulate His Prints?

In the darkroom, Degas manipulated his photographic prints using techniques like cropping images in unexpected ways, playing with focus, and exaggerating light effects. He treated prints almost like sketches or studies, creatively editing them by hand to achieve painterly qualities. 

Degas wanted to push the boundaries of photography and was not interested in straightforward documentary images. Degas also made idiosyncratic tonal prints that one friend described as “artificial and strange.” 

His inventive darkroom methods allowed him to further customize prints, distorting them to align with his artistic vision. Degas brought an experimental mindset to photography, purposefully undermining realistic representation.

How Did Photography Affect Degas’s Artistic Style?

Photography profoundly affected Degas’s artistic style, expanding his visual repertoire through the camera lens. The snapshots he took inspired his asymmetric framings and radical perspectives. Degas transferred approaches from photography to media like pastels and painting, portraying figures from steep, disorienting angles.

Photography also strengthened Degas’s commitment to modern subjects and his maverick spirit in capturing transitory moments. Through manipulating prints and negatives, photography nurtured Degas’s avant-garde eye for provocative crops, blurred lines, and high contrast effects. The interplay with photography made Degas’s artwork more abstract, fragmented, and evocative.

What Aspects Of Photography Drew In Degas?

Degas was attracted to the visual possibilities opened up by the relatively new medium of photography in the late 19th century. He was inspired by the way photography could capture spontaneity and unconventional angles and poses. 

As an artist, Degas was also drawn to the technical experimentation allowed by photography, including manipulating prints in the darkroom. He saw it as a dynamic creative tool to use alongside his painting and pastels.

Aspects of photography that appealed to Degas included its ability to capture movement and unexpected scenes. The technology aligned with his impulse to depict the transient moments of modern Parisian life. Degas also enjoyed exploring the effects of light and shadow made possible through photography.

How Did Degas’s Life Events Connect To His Photography?

In Degas’s later years, his failing eyesight may have motivated his turn to photography. As his vision deteriorated, Application Of The Commercial Photography offered another outlet for his creativity that depended less on direct observation. 

Taking photographs allowed Degas to continue depicting unconventional poses and perspectives related to themes he had long explored in painting, especially dancers. His photography can be seen as both inspired by and compensating for his fading eyesight in the 1890s.

Degas’s mother died in 1896, likely increasing his sense of his own mortality. Photography presented a way to document himself and those close to him, like an album of family and friends, before it was too late. His photography spree in the mid-1890s coincided with this heightened awareness of passing time and fading vision. He used the immediacy of photography to preserve images in his final decades.

What Was Degas Searching For Through The Camera Lens?

Degas used photography as a tool to expand his artistic vision and process. Through the camera lens he sought inspiration and new ways of seeing that he could translate into his artwork. 

His photographs of models, friends, and city scenes suggest he was searching for unexpected poses, candid moments, and unconventional perspectives to energize his painting.

On a personal level, Degas may have been searching for meaning and a legacy through photography later in life. 

As someone dedicated to depicting modern Paris, he likely wanted to document himself within the changing city he had obsessively chronicled. Photography gave Degas an opportunity to cement his own place in the vanishing present day. The camera offered another way to grasp fleeting reality.

How Did Degas Photograph His Subjects?

How Did Degas Photograph His Subjects?

Degas photographed his subjects in a distinctly unconventional manner. He often shot models, dancers, and friends from odd angles and poses that intentionally played with perspective and composition. 

Degas embraced photography’s ability to capture spontaneous, candid moments, resulting in images that felt more like snapshots rather than deliberately staged portraits. His photographs have a casual, immediate quality even as the subjects are placed in visually striking arrangements. 

Unlike traditional portrait photographers of the time, Degas did not seek flattering representations of his subjects. Instead, he used photography as a tool to explore form, light, and unexpected viewpoints. 

What Unconventional Poses Did Degas Photograph?

Degas photographed models in unconventional poses that echoed the unusual compositions and viewpoints of his paintings and pastels. He often shot dancers and women at work captured mid-movement, leaning, reaching or resting. 

The images have a spontaneity that suggests he photographed them informally during breaks in their routine. Degas also photographed nudes in unconventional reclining positions, sometimes from above, emphasizing unusual foreshortened perspectives.

Degas photographed models gazing pensively into the distance, lost in their own thoughts. He introduced props like hats, fabric, and even a monkey in some compositions. The poses in Degas’ photographs feel natural yet striking, capturing his subjects’ unselfconsciousness. 

Which Models Did Degas Photograph?

Degas photographed a variety of models, ranging from friends and professional models to ballerinas and women at work. His models were often women in his social circle as well as working-class Parisians. 

Degas took many photographs of his housekeeper, Emma Dobigny, who modeled for him regularly. He also photographed trained ballet dancers likely affiliated with the Paris Opera Ballet, where Degas focused much of his painting.

Degas photographed female factory workers, laundresses, and milliners in candid poses, continuing his artistic interest in depicting women at their labors. The female subjects of his photographs tended to be young, echoing his career-long fascination with adolescence and early adulthood. 

Who Else Did Degas Photograph Beside Models?

In addition to models, dancers, and working women, Degas also photographed a number of family members and friends. He took several portraits of his nieces, Jeannie and Estelle, who were likely in their late teens or early twenties at the time. 

Degas also photographed his friends such as novelist Ludovic Halévy, singer Jean-Baptiste Faure, and artist Walter Sickert in relaxed domestic settings, often showing them reading or conversing. These images provide a glimpse into Degas’ personal life.

Degas also photographed himself through double exposures, using his own image as a secondary ghostly presence shadowing the main figure in the picture. While models were his most frequent photographic subjects, his casual portraits of family and friends suggest his comfort with the medium. 

What Links Existed Between Degas’s Photos And Paintings?

There are clear connections between Edgar Degas’s photographs and his paintings. Degas often staged scenes in his photographs, directing models into unconventional poses that echoed his avant-garde painting compositions. 

He was searching for unusual perspectives and asymmetrical arrangements through the camera lens, just as in his artwork. Degas’s photographic prints served as studies, providing inspiration for future works.

Degas transferred many ideas directly from his photographs into finished paintings and pastels. He sometimes recreated the same scene with the same model across both media. There are examples where photographic prints have been physically marked up by Degas for potential paintings. 

Did Degas Stage Scenes In His Photos Like His Paintings?

Yes, Edgar Degas deliberately staged photographs to resemble his paintings. He positioned models, friends, and relatives into asymmetrical poses and tableaus reminiscent of his artwork. Degas introduced props, furniture, fabrics, and objects into his photographs to build the mise-en-scène, controlling every element. 

He preferred shooting in his studio where lighting and depth of field could be manipulated as in painting. Degas often photographed the same models and dancers he depicted in drawings, pastels, and oils, connecting both media.

Degas exploited photography’s capabilities for capturing movement and spontaneity while also deliberately posing his subjects. He combined candid shots with directed, highly-constructed scenes. The artist manipulated prints in the darkroom to further emulate his paintings. 

Degas treated photography as an extension of his art, consciously engineering photographs to achieve effects associated with his artwork. The staged, constructed nature of his photos aligns with his painting process.

How Did Degas Transfer Ideas From Photos To Canvas?

Degas directly transferred ideas and images from his photographs to his paintings and pastels. He sometimes marked up the actual prints, outlining forms and figures, indicating potential compositions. 

Degas made pastel studies after photographic prints as intermediary steps before larger works. He analyzed his photographs for light effects, color contrasts, poses, and spatial arrangements to apply to artwork.

Degas replicated identical scenes across both photographs and paintings with the same subjects. He would photograph models and dancers in the studio, later depicting them in similar poses and backdrops on canvas using the prints as references. 

Degas’s process often involved elaborate photographed staging leading to simplified, essentialized painting compositions. The photographs capture transitory effects, spontaneity, and modern life for imaginative translation into his timeless artwork.

Did Degas’s Photos Echo His Painting Compositions?

Absolutely, the compositions within Degas’s photographs intentionally echo and explore ideas related to his artwork. The asymmetrical framings, unusual vantage points with steep perspectives, abrupt croppings, and dynamic poses all parallel his paintings. 

Degas constructs distinctive mise-en-scènes in his photographs, introducing objects, fabrics, mirrors, and architecture to build atmospheric spaces reminiscent of his interiors. Many photographs of nudes, dancers, and bathers relate directly to Degas’s subject matter. 

He photographed models in the same unconventional poses, from the same oblique angles, and wearing ballet costumes as depicted in drawings and pastels, explicitly connecting both bodies of work. 

Degas creatively plays with depth of field, perspective, and lighting in his photographs to produce the flattened space, contours, and light effects that define his paintings. His photos provide analogues to then translate into artwork.

Why Was Photography Controversial For Artists Like Degas?

Photography was a controversial medium for artists like Edgar Degas in the late 1800s. Many in the art world saw photography as a mechanical reproduction technique rather than an art form requiring creativity.

Degas embraced photography despite skepticism from his contemporaries. As an Impressionist painter, Degas was already testing boundaries in art. His foray into photography put him further at odds with traditional perspectives on the boundaries of art. Degas saw photography as a dynamic creative tool rather than just a mechanical process.

Did Degas’s Contemporaries Accept His Photography?

Many of Degas’s fellow artists did not accept his enthusiastic adoption of photography. In their view, photography was a soulless, chemical process unworthy to be considered art. Degas’s embrace of photography challenged prevailing notions that true art required handcrafting by the artist.

While Degas found photography creatively freeing, his artist peers saw it as an attack on their ideals of fine art. To them, embracing photography meant abandoning the mastery of traditional artistic techniques. Degas’s photographic experimentation represented a betrayal of those classical skills.

How Did Photography Challenge Artistic Norms Then?

In Degas’s time, photography challenged norms about what constituted art. Photographs were seen as mass reproductions lacking the originality and human touch of painting or sculpture. Photography provided access to unconventional vantage points and candid poses that challenged artistic conventions.

Degas was drawn to the ways photography defied artistic rules. He appreciated how photographs captured unconventional angles and spontaneous gestures he incorporated into his artwork. Degas also made his own prints, manipulating negatives in the darkroom for further originality. The medium gave Degas tools to challenge artistic traditions further.

Why Did Some Despise Photography As An Art Form?

Some of Degas’s peers despised photography because they felt it threatened traditional artistic standards. Photographs could realistically reproduce scenes without needing the finely honed skills of a master painter. This mechanical objectivity struck at long-held beliefs that art required human originality and imagination.

Photography opened art to the masses by lowering barriers to image making. No longer did one need artistic mastery to produce a photographic record. This loss of exclusivity contributed to the painter’s disdain for the emerging medium Degas explored so enthusiastically. To them, photography diluted the status of fine art.


Why did Degas take up photography?

Degas took up photography later in life as his eyesight deteriorated, using it as a new creative outlet.

What did Degas photograph?

Degas photographed models, family, friends, and everyday scenes that inspired his artwork.

Did Degas’s photos influence his paintings?

Yes, Degas brought ideas from photographs into paintings, using unusual poses and perspectives inspired by the camera.

Was photography controversial for Degas?

Photography was controversial then since many felt it threatened artistic technique and originality that Degas defended.

How did photography expand Degas’s art?

Photography gave Degas new vantage points and spontaneity, expanding his creativity in groundbreaking ways. 


Photography played a major role for Edgar Degas in his later years. As his eyesight faded, Degas used photography as a new creative outlet. He took photos of models, friends, and everyday scenes to inspire his artworks. Degas brought ideas from photographs directly into his paintings and pastels.

Degas approached photography with an experimental spirit. He manipulated prints in the darkroom for further originality. Photography gave Degas new perspectives and spontaneity to incorporate into his art practice. 

Though controversial then, Degas’s photography expanded his creativity in groundbreaking ways. Embracing the camera opened up new directions for Degas. Photography became an integral part of his artistic process and vision. 

Leave a Comment