Nicéphore Niépce


The date of Niépce’s first photographic experiments is uncertain. He was led to them by his interest in the new art of lithography, for which he realized he lacked the necessary skill and artistic ability, and by his acquaintance with the camera obscura, a drawing aid which was popular among affluent dilettantes in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Yes, the camera was made because Nicéphore couldn’t draw to save his life.

There is a long story about how much he tried to make these surfaces that would allow for the image that was being seen in a camera obscura permanent. Super toxic chemicals on metal, or glass, or even stone. He eventually was successful. Sort of. He made a method to create a lithographic surface. Niépce’s process rather than by laborious and inexact hand-engraving or drawing on lithographic stones. They are, in essence, the oldest photocopies.

Niépce called his process heliography, which literally means “sun drawing”. In 1822, he used it to create what is believed to have been the world’s first permanent photographic image, the image at the top of the page.

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