The First Photograph

La cour du domaine du Gras is not the first photograph attempted by the French inventor Nicéphore Niépce, but this June 1826 photograph featuring a pigeon house and a barn roof is one of the earliest surviving ones. It might probably be the world’s oldest surviving photograph (although Niépce’s one other photo may have been older than this). The View from the Window at Le Gras was captured at Saint-Loup-de-Varennes on a sheet of 20 × 25 cm oil-treated bitumen. To make what he called a “heliograph,” or sun drawing, Niépce’s camera obscura required an exposure time of more than eight hours, which made the sunlight illuminates the buildings in the pictures on both sides.

Niépce brought this photo to England in 1827 to display his process in the Royal Society and presented the photo later to his host, the British botanist and botanical artist, Francis Bauer. Niépce died without his recognition in 1833 and the photo slipped into obscurity after its last public exhibition in 1898. It was only in 1952 that the photohistorian, Helmut Gernsheim, was able to obtain it for his collection. It is in the Gernsheim Collection for The University of Texas at Austin since 1963.

See Niépce’s dedication at the back of the photograph at UT website.

10 thoughts on “The First Photograph

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