How Joseph Nicéphore contributed to the early development of photography.
Born Joseph Niépce March 7th 1765, Niépce developed Heliography, a process of printing, which then lead on to the creation of world oldest surviving product of a photography process.
A military veteran and previous teacher, Niépce found a passion for inventing working alongside his older brother Claude, during their time working together they made many successful inventions including; The pyréophore: the world’s first internal combustion engine for propelling boats. Therefor photography wasn’t his first interest and he spent almost 20 years with his brother Claude promoting and improving The Pyréophore, which then resulted in Claude moving to England.
During this time the only time to capture a moment was by using a Camera Obscura, a device which consists of a box or a room with a hole in one side. Light from an external scene then passes through the hole and strikes a surface inside the box where it is reproduced rotated 180 degrees but with the colour perspective preserved. The image then could be projected on the paper in which then it can be traced using a steady hand and patience. Nicéphore used this method many times but felt he did not have the skilful hand in drawing to pursue this method effectively.
Then during 1813 the invention of Lithography swept France, Lithography was a printing process in which it used an image drawn with oil, fat, or wax onto the surface of a smooth lithographic limestone plate. The stone was treated with a mixture of acid and gum Arabic, etching the proportions of the stone which were not protected by the grease-based image. When the stone is subsequently moistened, these etched areas retained water; an oil-based ink could then be applied and would be repelled by the water, sticking only to the original. The ink would then finally be transferred to a blank paper sheet, producing a printed page. This method was made from the concept of oil and water being unable to mix.
This new craze then caught Nicéphore’s attention after there being many inventors who trialled and tested the camera obscura and finding a way to reproduced and image without having to drawing it yourself. Nicéphore trailed the use of lithography with the camera obsucra for six years until he finally came up with Heliography.
Heliography is a process which uses Bitumen of Judea, a naturally occurring asphalt, as a coating on glass or metal, the glass or metal is the inserted into the camera obscura in place where the light will come through the hole. It hardens in proportion to its exposure to light, when the plate is washed with oil of lavender only the hardened areas remained, producing a photo printed on the glass or metal.
After mastering this process Nicéphore travelled to England in 1827 to visit his older brother Claude, there he was introduced to Francis Bauer, a noted botanist, who recognised the importance of Nicéphore and encouraged him to write about his invention of heliography. Bauer then went on to help Nicéphore in producing his work by providing introductions to present his paper and heliographs to the Royal Society. All of the specimens in which Nicéphore referred to as ‘Les Premiers’, were rejected and returned to him because he chose not to fully disclose his process. After this Nicéphore returned to Le Gras continuing his experiments, in 1829 he agreed to a ten year partnership with Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre to help develop his work. Nicéphore continued with his experiments hoping for recognition and success with heliography. During this time both Nicéphore and Daguerre were working together to create Daguerreotype, a printing process which developed from heliography.
Daguerreotype is made by coating a copper plate with a silver iodide and being exposed to light in the camera obscura, the copper plate is then fumed with a mercury vapour and fixed by a solution of salt, forming a permanent image.
The first image produced using the Daguerreotype was in 1837, by which time Nicéphore had died, so it was a name in which Daguerre took. Daguerreotype then became very commercialised and shadowed Nicéphore and his progression with Heliography to form Daguerreotype due to his partner taking most of the credit.
Even though Daguerre went on to name the process and get the profit, without Nicéphore the process wouldn’t have even existed for Daguerre to succeed in. The early development of photography was created and pioneered by many people, it was almost as if every single inventor put their own input into the creation of photography. Nicephore was inspired by Lithography invented by Alois Senefelder and The Camera Obscura invented by Alhazen from this Nicephore then shared his passion and influenced his parted Daguerre who then went on to inspire and develop more methods of photography to the point were at today.
It is still being debated now upon who in fact took the first photograph, it is stated throughout Geoffrey Batchen’s “burning with desire; the concept of photography” in chapter four that there is many possibilities into which the first ever photograph was and who was the photographer. The pictures promise more stable evidence for the point of origin to the history of the medium, but historians have offered very little detail analysis of the images at issue so there is no exact date upon what photo or what process was first. Nicephore is mentioned and his photographs are analysed within this chapter, it describes the trials he went through to get to the creation of heliography and the photos and prints that still remain to this day. The one photo that was spoke about the most was his “View from the window at Le Gras 1827,” it speaks about how they tried to reproduce this photo but failed due to the ‘foundation stone’ being impossible to reproduce, it was then sent to Kodak Research Laboratory where they produced what Gernsheim describes as a “greatly distorted image which no way corresponded with the original. A travesty of the truth.” Consequently Gernsheim then went on to touch up this copy for two days with water colour abolishing hundreds of light spots and blotches and giving the image a “pointillistic effect” that he admits is completely unfamiliar to the medium. He reassured the people that it was only an estimate of the original and it was similar to the drawing that he has made before any of the reproductions had even existed. This image then went on to feauture in his ‘The photographic journal’ in 1952; it appears as “the world’s earliest photograph” in his The Origins of photography 1982. The same reproduction of the photo and claim also appear in a vast number of more recent histories of photography.
Even though the Daguerreotype overshadowed Nicéphore’s hard work and determination with heliography at the time, he is still remembered today to be a pioneer and inventor in photography, and for him to still be looked back on today proves how much of and influence he was to our world. Without his determination and curiosity we wouldn’t have the ability to capture and keep a moment or share it with the world and potentially pursue and career in the profession.
BBC – GCSE Physics – The invention of photography by Nicephore Niepce. 2014. BBC – GCSE Physics – The invention of photography by Nicephore Niepce. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/education/clips/z7w34wx. [Accessed 8th November 2014
heliography – YouTube. 2014. heliography – YouTube. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_JAeXQ_IHdE. [Accessed 11th November 2014].
History of photography: Niépce pictures. 2014. History of photography: Niépce pictures. [ONLINE] Available at: http://akvis.com/en/articles/photo-history/niepce.php. [Accessed 11th November 2014].
Joseph Nicéphore Niépce: The First Photograph. 2014. Joseph Nicéphore Niépce: The First Photograph. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/exhibitions/permanent/firstphotograph/niepce/. [Accessed 8th November 2014].
Geoffrey Batchen (1999). Burning With Desire: The Conception Of Photography. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cambridge, Mass. : The MIT Press. p120-p127.