Worlds First Photograph

Niepce First Photo

Nicéphore Niépce (1765 – 1833) was a clever French inventor and one of the major contributors to the invention of photography.

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Niepce Camera Obscura 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.

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