Louis-Emile Durandelle (French, 1838–1917) was one of the most accomplished architectural photographers during the 19th century. His best-known body of work is the group of photographs in the 1860s of the construction of the Paris Opéra, its sculptural ornaments and decorations. Charles Garnier won the commission to design the Opéra house in 1861 during France’s Second Empire, a period of rapid urban growth and opulent construction. Today, Opéra Garnier is considered one of the best and most successful of the many excellent buildings erected during that period.
Durandelle was hired to photograph each detail of the building before it was lifted into place. While his job was ostensibly mundane and simply documentary, his pictures of the ornament and decorations are anything but. Durandelle often isolated the sparkling white marble or rich bronze pieces against a black cloth backdrop, according them each distinction and majesty before they became part of a carefully organized and orchestrated program on the façade or in the interior.