Friday, February 13, 2009

The Very First Photograph

I am in the process of preparing for the "Introduction to Photography" class that I will be giving at a college. While developing the layout or curriculum for the class I decided I should give a short brief history of photography.

This is when I made a very sad discovery, I do not know how the very first photo was made and whom made it! In this day and age of nostalgia and trivia where our heads are filled with all kinds of sports knowledge, movie facts and a whole assortment of useless trivial pieces information, how sad is it that I being an ex-professional photographer and now an avid photographer that I do not know this simple piece of photographic history.

I asked a few other photographer friends and received a few "I Do not know" answers and several guesses that were all wrong. So, I will pose it to you now, Who created the very first photograph? I will even help you out by posting a copy of the image below.

View from the Window at Le Gras

At this point I would guess that most if not all of you reading this have no clue as to what this photograph is. So, who created the image, what is the image called (the name gives the location away), where was it taken, when was it taken and what photographic process was used?

Before giving out the answers I will just say that this image was an 8 Hour Exposure taken out of the creators window.

So, who did create the image? Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (1765-1833), a French inventor who was experimenting with Camera Obscura.

The image is called "View from the Window at Le Gras." and it was taken from the creators lab/studio window near Chalon-sur-Saône France.

It's hard to believe that this image was taken in circa 1826. Despite the fact that Niépce had been playing with silver chloride (salts) used in modern B&W Photography for a long time without success, it wasn't until he turned to bitumen of Judea, a kind of asphalt that hardened when exposed to light was he able to be successful.

Niepce dissolved the bitumen in lavender oil and coated a sheet of pewter with the mixture. He placed the sheet in the camera and exposed it for eight hours aimed through an open window at his courtyard. The light forming the image on the plate hardened the bitumen in bright areas and left it soft and soluble in the dark areas. Niepce then washed the plate with lavender oil, which removed the still-soft bitumen that hadn’t been struck by light, leaving a permanent image.
Niepce named the process heliography - Greek, helios for “sun” and graphos for “drawing” or "painting" thus the term "Painting with Light".

Not only did I find this information fascinating and informative, I had fun researching the complete history of the Camera, the different Photo Processes including the more successful Daguerreotype (ca.1837) and then the advent of the Negative and eventually Color Film. I would strongly suggest that you check it out.

For more specific information on Joseph Nicéphore Niépce and his "View from the Window at Le Gras.", check out this informative web site at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

Harry Ransom Center Permanent Exhibition - "The First Photograph"

© 2009 Francois Cleroux

(Version 1.10 - August 2012)

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I value thoughtful comments and suggestions. If you like or dislike this post, please let me know. If you have any ideas or suggestion, comments or corrections (I do make mistakes) please also let me know. Thanks.

- Francois Cleroux