The World's First Photograph


Louis Daugerre is considered by many to be the inventor of modern photography. On August 19, 1839, Daugerre announced his invention of the daguerreotype process that fixed optical images permanently. But the first successful photographic image, called a heliograph, was captured more than a decade earlier.

Historians credit fellow Frenchman
Joseph Nicéphore Niépce with being the first to permanently capture an optical image. Niépce worked with traditional lithography techniques, but was not an artist himself. So he relied on his talented son to create images for the lithographs. When his son was drafted in 1814 to fight with Napoleon at Waterloo, Niepce was left without an illustrator.

Niépce turned his attention to a process called photochemical drawing, using silver salts, and for the next decade he struggled to perfect a primitive form of photo-lithography. Niépce's biggest breakthrough came in 1822, when he created a permanent image by exposing coated pewter plates to a camera image, using the vapors from heated iodine crystals to darken the silver.

Portrait of Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, 1795, by C. Laguiche.

The exposure time for the first photo lasted eight hours -- so the sun had time to move from east to west, appearing to shine on both sides of the building.

The iodine method would inspire Daugerre's more successful mercury vapor development process -- and in fact, Niépce teamed up with Daugerre in 1829 and died four years later at age 69.

The precious photo has been housed at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin since 1963.


Joseph Nicéphore Niépce.
View from the Window at Le Gras.
ca1826.
Heliograph, in original frame.
25.8 x 29.0 cm.











The First Photograph, housed in its original presentational frame and sealed within an atmosphere of inert gas in an airtight steel and plexiglas storage frame, must be viewed under controlled lighting in order for its image to be visible. In general, this procedure also requires viewing within a darkened environment free of other incidental light sources. This effect, suggestive of Gernsheim's fIrst viewing of the mirror-like effect of the pewter plate, attempts to give each viewer the chance to experience the effect of discovery from which the image can be seen to seemingly emerge from the original heliograph plate.




 
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