First Permanent Image, First Photo, Niépce and Daguerre

Nicéphore NiépceNicéphore Niépce (1765 – 1833) a French inventor, one of the inventors of photography and a true pioneer in the field of the permanent image. He is recognized as producing the world’s first photograph in 1827 – the actual year varies from different references from 1822 to 1827. Niépce took what is believed to be the world’s first photogravure etching, in 1822 of an engraving of Pope Pius VII, but the original was later destroyed when he attempted to duplicate it. The earliest surviving photogravure etchings by Niépce are of a 17th century engraving of a man with a horse and of an engraving of a woman with a spinning wheel. Niépce did not have a steady enough hand to trace the inverted images created by the camera obscura, as was popular in his day, so he looked for a way to capture an image permanently. He experimented with lithography, which led him in his attempt to take a photograph using a camera obscura. Niépce also experimented with silver chloride, which darkens when exposed to light, but eventually looked to bitumen, which he used in his first successful attempt at capturing nature photographically. He dissolved bitumen in lavender oil, a solvent often used in varnishes, and coated a sheet of pewter with this light capturing mixture. He placed the sheet inside a camera obscura to capture the picture and eight hours later he removed the sheet and washed it with the lavender oil to remove the unexposed bitumen. He began experimenting with optical images in 1793. Some of his early experiments made images, but they faded very fast. The earliest known, surviving example of a Niépce photograph or any photograph was created in 1827. Niépce called his process heliography, which literally means “sun writing”. Nevertheless, semiologist Roland Barthes, in a Spanish edition of his book “La chambre claire”, “La cámara lúcida” shows a picture from 1822, “Table ready”, a foggy photo of a table set to be used for a meal. Starting in 1829 Niepce began collaborating on photographic processes with Louis Daguerre, together they developed the physautotype, a process that used lavender oil. The partnership lasted until Niépce’s untimely death in 1833.

Louis-Jacques-Mandé DaguerreLouis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre (1787 – 1851) was born in Cormeilles-en-Parisis, Val-d’Oise, France November 18th 1787. He was adept at the skill of theatrical illusion and became a celebrated designer for the theater. This led to his invention of the Diorama, which he opened in Paris July 1822. Daguerre partnered with Niépce seven years later, the partnership as far as Daguerre was concerned, might have been connected to his already famous dioramas. Niépce was a printer and his process was based on a faster way to produce printing plates. Daguerre perhaps thought that the process developed by Niépce could help speed up his diorama creation. Daguerre announced the latest perfection of the Daguerreotype, after years of experimentation, in 1839, with the French Academy of Sciences announcing the process on January 7th of that year. Daguerre’s patent was them acquired by the French Government on August 19th 1839. The French Government announced this great invention as a gift to the World. Niépce’s son and Daguerre obtained a pension from the Government in exchange for freely sharing the details of the process. The daguerreotype is a unique image on a silver-plated sheet of copper.Daguerre died on July 10th 1851 of a heart attack in Paris. On November 18th 2011, Google displayed a doodle commemorating Daguerre’s Birthday and Retro-Vintage-Bazaar posted this awesome informational blurb as it’s thanks to Daguerre for giving the great gift of his invention that pioneered the path to modern photography.

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