World’s first (permanent) photograph

Text: Solveig Hansen, 2016

Exposure time: 8 hours, maybe more. And you think your camera is slow?

August 19 is World Photography Day. Let’s rewind 190 years.

In 1826 or 1827, after unsuccessfully trying for years to fix the image to make his photographs permanent, the French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (1765–1833, sidebar photo) captured the photograph that is known to be the earliest surviving photo. The grainy picture with rooftops and trees shows the view from a window at the Niépce family estate, Le Gras.


World’s first photograph:
View from the Window at Le Gras

Another Frenchman, and a partner of Niépce, Louis Daguerre (1787–1851), went on to develop the daguerreotype process, which required only minutes of exposure in the camera. This was the first publicly announced photographic process, and the most commonly used for nearly twenty years. It was introduced to the world in 1839, the year which has become the official birth year of photography. Louis Daguerre is considered one of the fathers of photography.

Niépce remained unknown to the larger public until his iconic photo was rediscovered by historians in the 1950’s. It is on display in the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, and Niépce has got the recognition he deserved. He even has a lunar crater named after him. As does Daguerre.

Niépce’s photo is listed among Life Magazine’s 100 photographs that changed the world, alongside Earthrise 1968 as seen from Apollo 8, Nagasaki 1945, and Tiananmen Square 1989.

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