Marie (dite Maria) Chambefort

1840Mâcon, France | 1893Roanne, France

Daguerréotypiste française.

Until now, the identity of professional daguerreotypist Maria Chambefort has been attributed to Marie Chambefort, née Perraud, a former laundress who was born in Mâcon in 1818 and died in Roanne in 1875. By one of those fortunate quirks of fate uncovered in the course of uncharted research into pre-First World War French women photographers, however, it turns out that the pioneer in question was not in fact M. Perraud but her daughter, whose name was also Marie.
“A student of Paris and Lyon’s first practitioners” – as she described herself in the press and on her commercial labels – at the age of 16 M. Chambefort trained under her uncle François Perraud (1814-1862), a portraitist who had made a name for himself in Lyon during the 1850s (a rare example of research into a woman photographer’s identity actually revealing the true identity of a masculine counterpart: F. Perraud had been given the misnomer Philibert in historical accounts of his photographic expeditions to Italy, Greece and Turkey in the 1840s).

Around 1857, when she was just 17, the young daguerreotypist set herself up as an itinerant photographer in Mâcon, before widening her scope to the departments of the Saône-et-Loire and Loire. Having spent four years pursuing her activity throughout her local regions and cities, she finally settled in Roanne in 1861, launching the city’s first permanent studio. At that time the trend was for visiting card sized portraits on paper. Her new sedentary existence proved a great success for the photographer, who was able to rely not only on her mother but on her brother François (1850-1925), who was ten years younger. In 1874, at the age of 34, the businesswoman married textile manufacturer and merchant Jacques Léon Chanteloube, who had been her neighbour for fifteen years. She died a widow and the mother of two daughters in 1893, in Roanne, at the age of 53. Her studio did not survive her death.

M. Chambefort featured in the 2015-2016 exhibition Qui a peur des femmes photographes? 1839-1919 ([Who’s afraid of women photographers? 1839-1919] at the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris. Despite the systematic inventory of French women photographers carried out on this occasion, she remains an almost unprecedented example of a practising itinerant female daguerreotypist in France and to our knowledge the only one to have been recognised both through first-hand accounts and through her corpus of photographic plates. One could go so far as to say that apart from M. Chambefort, not a single woman photographer dating from the Second Empire, including those in a fixed position, has to date provided us with such a wealth of material. Since 2019, she has earned a place in the national collections thanks to her only currently indexed work, a single whole plate daguerreotype.

Thomas Galifot

Translated from French by Caroline Taylor.

Publication made in partnership with musée d’Orsay.
© Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions

© Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions
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