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Early Cameras and Images. A freestanding room-sized camera obscura at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. One of the pinholes can be seen in the panel to the left of the door. Alhacen's observations of light's behaviour through a pinhole.

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A freestanding room-sized camera obscura at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. One of the pinholes can be seen in the panel to the left of the door.



Camera obscura from a manuscript of military designs seventeenth century possibly italian

Camera obscura, from a manuscript of military designs. Seventeenth century, possibly Italian.


A freestanding room-sized camera obscura in the shape of a camera located in San Francisco at the Cliff House in Ocean Beach.


Optics of Wollaston camera lucida camera located in San Francisco at the Cliff House in Ocean Beach.


A ca 1830 engraving of camera lucida in use

A ca. 1830 engraving of camera lucida in use camera located in San Francisco at the Cliff House in Ocean Beach.


Long before the first public announcements of photographic processes in 1839, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, a scientifically-minded gentleman living on his country estate near Chalon-sur-Saône, France, began experimenting with photography. Fascinated with the craze for the newly-invented art of lithography which swept over France in 1813, he began his initial experiments by 1816. Unable to draw well, Niépce first placed engravings, made transparent, onto engraving stones or glass plates coated with a light-sensitive varnish of his own composition. These experiments, together with his application of the then-popular optical instrument, the camera obscura, would eventually lead him to the invention of the new medium.


In 1824 Niépce met with some degree of success in copying engravings, but it would be two years later before he had success utilizing pewter plates as the support medium for the process. By the summer of that year, 1826, Niépce was ready. In the window of his upper-story workroom at his Saint-Loup-de-Vscura, placed within it a polished pewter plate coated witarennes country house, Le Gras, he set up a camera obh bitumen of Judea (an asphalt derivative of petroleum), and uncapped the lens. After at least a day-long exposure of eight hours, the plate was removed and the latent image of the view from the window was rendered visible by washing it with a mixture of oil of lavender and white petroleum which dissolved away the parts of the bitumen which had not been hardened by light. The result was the permanent direct positive picture you see here—a one-of-a-kind photograph on pewter. It renders a view of the outbuildings, courtyard, trees and landscape as seen from that upstairs window.


Joseph Nicéphore Niépce. engravings, but it would be two years later before he had success utilizing pewter plates as the support medium for the process. By the summer of that year, 1826, Niépce was ready. In the window of his upper-story workroom at his Saint-Loup-de-Vscura, placed within it a polished pewter plate coated witarennes country house, Le Gras, he set up a camera obh bitumen of Judea (an asphalt derivative of petroleum), and uncapped the lens. After at least a day-long exposure of eight hours, the plate was removed and the latent image of the view from the window was rendered visible by washing it with a mixture of oil of lavender and white petroleum which dissolved away the parts of the bitumen which had not been hardened by light. The result was the permanent direct positive picture you see here—a one-of-a-kind photograph on pewter. It renders a view of the outbuildings, courtyard, trees and landscape as seen from that upstairs window.

Notice sur l'Heliographie. 1827.

Original manuscript.

Page 1 of paper written for presentation to the Royal Society.


An ultimately doomed attempt to interest the Royal Society in his process—which he called "Heliography"—brought Niépce and the first photograph to England in 1827. Upon his return to France later that year, he left this precious artifact with his host, the British botanist and botanical artist, Francis Bauer, who dutifully recorded the inventor's name and additional information on the paper backing of the frame that held the unique plate. Niépce formed a partnership with the French artist, Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre, in 1829, but produced little more work and died, his contributions chiefly unrecognized, in 1833.


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.


Kodak Research Laboratory, Harrow, England. 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.

Gelatin silver print reproduction of Joseph Nicéphore Niépce's

View from the Window at Le Gras.

March 1952.

Gelatin silver print.

20.3 x 25.4 cm.


The first attempt to reproduce the First Photograph was conducted at Helmut Gernsheim's request by the Research Laboratory of the Eastman Kodak Company in Harrow, England, in March of 1952. After three weeks of work utilizing strong side lighting, high contrast film and the identical angular displacement of the camera and enlarger lenses, the lab produced this copyprint. However, because of the sharpness of the lens and the camera's objective nature of precisely copying the texture and unevenness of the plate itself, Gernsheim declared this negative-like version to be a "gross distortion of the original" and forbade its reproduction until 1977.


Helmut Gernsheim & Kodak Research Laboratory, Harrow, England.

Gelatin silver print with applied watercolor reproduction of

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce's View from the Window at Le Gras.

March 20-21, 1952.

Gelatin silver print and watercolor.

20.3 x 25.4 cm.


This most famous reproduction of the First Photograph was based upon the March 1952 print, produced at Helmut Gernsheim's request by the Research Laboratory of the Eastman Kodak Company in Harrow. The pointillistic effect is due to the reproduction process and is not present in the original heliograph. Gernsheim himself spent eleven hours on March 20, 1952, touching up with watercolors one of the prints of the Kodak reproduction. His attempt was meant to bring the heliograph as close as possible to a positive representation of how he felt Niépce intended the original should appear. It is this version of the image which would become the accepted reproduction of the image for the next fifty years.


The view, made from an upper, rear window of the Niépce family home in Burgundy, in the village of Saint-Loup-de-Varennes near Chalon-sur-Saône. Representationally the subject matter includes [from left to right]: the upper loft (or, so-called "pigeon-house") of the family home; a pear tree with a patch of sky showing through an opening in the branches; the slanting roof of the barn, with the long roof and low chimney of the bake house behind it; and, on the right, another wing of the family house. Details in the original image are very faint, due not to fading—the heliographic process is a relatively permanent one—but rather to Niepce's underexposure of the original plate.


Francis Bauer, et al. family home in Burgundy, in the village of Saint-Loup-de-Varennes near Chalon-sur-Saône. Representationally the subject matter includes [from left to right]: the upper loft (or, so-called "pigeon-house") of the family home; a pear tree with a patch of sky showing through an opening in the branches; the slanting roof of the barn, with the long roof and low chimney of the bake house behind it; and, on the right, another wing of the family house. Details in the original image are very faint, due not to fading—the heliographic process is a relatively permanent one—but rather to Niepce's underexposure of the original plate.

Manuscript notations and labels on the verso of Joseph Nicéphore

Niépce's View from the Window at Le Gras.

1827-1963.

Ink on paper backing of framed object.

25.8 x 29.0 cm.


When Niépce left England in 1827, he gave his host and sponsor, Francis Bauer, FRS, many materials relating to his work, including the First Photograph. Bauer, ever the dutiful scientist and friend, added two important inscriptions on the paper backing of the original frame that held the piece:

L'Heliographie.

Les premiers résultats

obtenus Spontanément

par l'action de la lumiere.

Par Monsieur Niepce

De Chalon sur Saone.

1827.

Monsieur Niépce's first successful

experiment of fixing permanently

the Image from Nature.


Bauer also signed his name and address, Kew Green, at the bottom of this record. The denotation of the year of 1827 is generally accepted as Bauer's reference to the date of presentation and not as the year of Niépce's production of the plate. Helmut Gernsheim himself favored the 1826 date as the year of its creation.


Harry Ransom Center and J. Paul Getty Museum. bottom of this record. The denotation of the year of 1827 is generally accepted as Bauer's reference to the date of presentation and not as the year of Niépce's production of the plate. Helmut Gernsheim himself favored the 1826 date as the year of its creation.

Color digital print reproduction of Joseph Nicéphore Niépce's

View from the Window at Le Gras.

June 2002.

20.3 x 25.4 cm.


Fifty years after its rediscovery by Helmut Gernsheim, Niépce's First Photograph received critical scientific diagnosis, when it traveled to the Getty Conservation Institute in California. For over two weeks in the summer of 2002, scientists and conservators at this prestigious facility subjected the artifact, its frame, and support materials to extensive and rigorous non-destructive testing. The result was a very complete scientific and technical analysis of the object, which in turn provided better criteria for its secure and permanent case design and presentation here in the lobby of the newly-renovated Ransom Center.


The plate also received extensive attention from the photographic technicians at the Institute, who spent a day and a half with the original heliograph in their photographic studios in order to record photographically and digitally all aspects of the plate. The object was documented under all manner of scientific lights, including infrared and ultraviolet spectra. In addition, the photographers also followed in the footsteps of the Kodak Labs a half century earlier and produced new color film and digital/electronic copies of the plate, in an attempt to reveal more of the unretouched image while still providing a sense of the complex physical state of the photograph.


Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre was born near Paris, France in 1787. The illusionistic painter Pierre Prevost asked him to join his team of panorama-painting artists when he was just twenty years old. Daguerre soon after became an assistant stage designer for a theater. He was a gifted illusionist in terms of his ability to design sets that dazzled his audiences. An artist who wanted his work to be as real as possible, Daguerre created amazingly life-like scenes right in the theater. These designs, which were able to simulate the passage of day into night, changes in weather, and even give viewers the feel of motion, Daguerre later coined as "dioramas," or "dramas of light." By 1825, Daguerre was a successful creator, proprietor, and promoter of a successful illusionistic theater in Paris that specialized in these dioramas.


By 1835, word began to spread around Paris that the city's favorite master of illusion and light had discovered a new way to enchant the eye. In January of 1839, the invention of a photographic system that would fix the image caught in the camera obscura was formally announced in the London periodical The Athenaeum.


Louis Daguerre called his invention "daguerreotype." His method, which he disclosed to the public late in the summer of 1839, consisted of treating silver-plated copper sheets with iodine to make them sensitive to light, then exposing them in a camera and "developing" the images with warm mercury vapor. The fumes from the mercury vapor combined with the silver to produce an image. The plate was washed with a saline solution to prevent further exposure.


The camera pictured above is a Bishop Daguerreotype Camera and Developing Apparatus, 1839, given to The Franklin Institute by Dr. Paul Beck Goddard. Goddard was an Assistant Professor at the University of Pennsylvania where Joaquim Bishop was an instrument maker in the chemistry department. This is one of three early American cameras made by Bishop in Philadelphia in the Fall of 1839, a few months after Louis Daguerre announced his invention before the Academy of Science in Paris.


The developing box was for treating daguerreotype plates after exposure to the vapor of mercury

The developing box was for treating Daguerreotype and Developing Apparatus, 1839, given to The Franklin Institute by Dr. Paul Beck Goddard. Goddard was an Assistant Professor at the University of Pennsylvania where Joaquim Bishop was an instrument maker in the chemistry department. This is one of three early American cameras made by Bishop in Philadelphia in the Fall of 1839, a few months after Louis Daguerre announced his invention before the Academy of Science in Paris.

plates after exposure to the vapor of mercury.


L atelier de l artiste an 1837 daguerreotype by daguerre

L’Atelier de l'artiste. An 1837 daguerreotype by Daguerre. and Developing Apparatus, 1839, given to The Franklin Institute by Dr. Paul Beck Goddard. Goddard was an Assistant Professor at the University of Pennsylvania where Joaquim Bishop was an instrument maker in the chemistry department. This is one of three early American cameras made by Bishop in Philadelphia in the Fall of 1839, a few months after Louis Daguerre announced his invention before the Academy of Science in Paris.


This is a Daguerreotype of Fairmount Water Works in Philadelphia, taken by Thomas P. and David C. Collins. The images are quite faint, as they have faded over time.


The best-known image of Edgar Allan Poe was a daguerreotype taken in 1848 by W.S. Hartshorn, shortly before Poe's death.


One of the first images ever taken of Abraham Lincoln was a daguerreotype of him as a Congressman taken by Nicholas H. Shepherd in 1846.


Ichiki shir s 1857 daguerreotype of shimazu nariakira the earliest surviving japanese photograph

Ichiki Shirō's 1857 daguerreotype of Shimazu Nariakira, the earliest surviving Japanese photograph



Pictured is some of the equipment needed to produce Daguerreotypes. This process, because it used mercury vapor, was a very dangerous process and bad health and early death was common among the early daguerreotype photographers. Daguerreotypes are very fragile and were mounted in a sandwich of a backing, a vignette and then glass then mounted into a tooled leather or sometimes moulded bakelite holder. If the silver surface was touched or contaminated with moisture or any other substance the image would be destroyed.


Daguerreotypes at harvard

Since the invention of photography in 1839, libraries, museums, research institutes, and academic departments at Harvard and Radcliffe have created and collected photographs for use in research and instruction.

Among these millions of images are more than 3,500 daguerreotypes, the first publicly-announced photographic process.

Daguerreotypes at Harvard


Portrait of Chinese woman museums, research institutes, and academic departments at Harvard and Radcliffe have created and collected photographs for use in research and instruction.

Photographer unknown

Date unknown

Sixth plate

Peabody Museum (35-5-1053-57) (D21) (PM-21)


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