Nicéphore Niépce, first Photographer 

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (7 March 1765 – 5 July 1833), is a French inventor, usually credited as the inventor of photography and a pioneer in that field. Niépce developed heliography, a technique he used to create the world’s oldest surviving product of a photographic process: a print made from a photoengraved printing plate in 1825. In 1826 or 1827, he used a primitive camera to produce the oldest surviving photograph of a real-world scene. Among Niépce’s other inventions was the Pyréolophore, the world’s first internal combustion engine, which he conceived, created, and developed with his older brother Claude Niépce.
Niépce is born in Chalon-sur-Saône (Saône-et-Loire, Burgundy-Franche Comté region)

Ceci n’est qu’un essai bien imparfait, mais avec beaucoup de patience et de  travail on peut faire de grandes choses.”

Nicéphore Niépce

1816-1818 — Niépce’s first Experiments

Towards the Invention of Photography

In 1816, a year before the pyreolophore patent runs out, Claude goes to Paris, then to England in 1817, trying to make work the engine invention .
Nicephore starts by himself new research on an idea that has obsessed him for many years : making permanent on a support through a compound the images seen at the back of camerae obscurae .
Until then , these boxes with a lens adapted on a hole , projecting on the back an inverted image of the outside view , had only been used as a drawing aid.

The first world negative (non fixed)

For his first experiments , Nicéphore Niépce positioned at the back of a camera obscura sheets of silver salts coated paper, known to blacken with daylight . In may 1816 he produced the first image of nature : a view from a window . It was a negative and the image vanished because in broad daylight the coated paper becomes completely black . He calls these images “retinas”.

Principle of the invention of photography

In March 1817, Niépce decidedly took up his research on making images again. While reading chemistry treatises, he focused his attention on the resin of Gaïacum extracted from a coniferous tree. This yellow resin becomes green when exposed to day-light. What made it particularly interesting is that it loses its solubility in alcohol. Niépce understood that thanks to this property it was easy to see the difference between the modified and the intact resin, thus fix the image.
At first he got rather good results experimenting directly with sun-light, but failed when using a camera obscura. He did not know that only U-V rays were active on this resin and that they were filtered by his camera obscura lens. In 1818, next to fixing images, he also developed a keen interest for the dandy horse (ancestor of the bicycle without pedals) and got a lot of attention riding the roads of Saint-Loup-de-Varennes on his “velocipede”.

1825-1829 — Invention of Photography

In 1824, he put lithographic stones, coated with bitumen, at the back of a camera obscura and obtained for the first time ever a fixed image of a landscape. This required an extremely long exposure time, in broad daylight, for a few days. Starting in 1825, he regularly used copper as a base, then tin in 1826, while also realising etched images.

In 1827, Niépce went to England, where he found his brother dying, without any improvements to the engine at hand. He realised then that they would never get any profit from this invention into which they had invested so much hope. After having vainly tried to get the attention of the Royal Society as to his reproduction process of images, called heliography, Niépce returned to France and relentlessly worked on improving his invention. In 1828, he found a new method that led to superior quality images with half-tones. Using polished silver as a base and letting iodine vapours interact with the bitumen image, he obtained genuine photographs in black and white on a metal plate. The preciseness of these images was amazing for the time. The exposure time was still many days in broad sunlight.

Principle and Technique of Heliography with the Camera Obscura

The photosensitive agent is bitumen of Judea, which is a sort of natural tar known from ancient times. People in antiquity used to collect it from the Dead Sea surface (in the Greek Asphaltite lake), where it kept surfacing continually from the bottom of the sea. It was used by the Egyptians to embalm mummies, to caulk ships or even to make terrace works in Babylon. In the 19th century, people already knew how to extract this tar from bituminous rocks, and as a matter of fact the bitumen used by Niépce did not come from Judea anymore.

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