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The Story of the First Photograph

Author: Libby - Printique by Adorama

Lost and Found

By Julianne Mosher
From the beginning of civilization the idea of documenting an image was something that crossed the minds of artists, thinkers and inventors alike. Those images may have started out being created out of clay and on stone, but as the world progressed, so did image making.
Soon enough, paintings were being created with colors of oils, and were the closest thing they had to an actual picture. However, they were often times exaggerated or changed to fit the demands of those who were paying.
According to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, the first known photograph, taken with an actual camera, was created around 1826 or 1827 by Joseph Nicephore Niepce.


The shot is simple. It is a picture taken from the upstairs window of his estate, Le Gras, in the Burgundy region of France. A science enthusiast, Niepce began playing with light and attempting to use it to “reproduce images.” During this time, he could not simply take out a bulky camera, turn on the flash and press a button to copy what was in front of him. Instead he used a term he coined “heliography” after he experimented with lithographic printmaking.
The image is not clear, as it would be today, but the fact that it was done when such minimal technology was available proves how photography has grown. In black and white, it shows a messy capture of a backyard, where you can see the specks of grainy trees through a two-story window.


For over half a century Niepce’s photo and his handwritten memoir were exhibited by different places and people, but then it disappeared and no one talked about it again. In 1952, two photo historians, Helmut and Alison Gernsheim located the image in an estate. The Gernsheim’s took the image and kept it safe in their collection thereafter.
Now the photograph graces the internet and is the subject of how photo taking came to be. If it was not for Niepce’s invention, thought and experiments, we can’t really say what photography would be like today. Luckily, the evidence of his hard work and dedication are dug up from their lonely graves to serve the public yet again with amazement and wonder.


For more about photography, click here.