Photography across the decades 1820's

Photography's initial creation or birth is something that is widely debated amongst the photography world. Some stating that photography was "invented" in1826 by Joseph Nicephore Niépce, View from a window. Others like to look further back and trace the conceptual birth of each element. But, who are we to judge? history is written by the victors and thus makes it increasingly hard to find any factual data that is not merely opinion based. We have the remnants and objects left behind by those who are written in history, but how much of that information has become distorted or manipulated over the years. History books, the Chinese whispers of man.

I will in these blogs begin looking at the history of photography from 1820, right the way through to post modernist times (present day).


The decade of advancement and european colonisation. It saw the rise of the first industrial revolution, the invention and creation of the textile industry as well as photography. It was the decade that began the acceptance of thinking out of the box and around this time it also didn't lead you to decapitation.

In the !820's photography was all about the next big step, about the actual ability to replicate an image without the need to 'paint' it. Up until this point painters were the ones who captured likeness, however that still meant that the artist was able to communicate their impressions of the person or area and rarely an exact copy.

The below image has been classified as the 'first' image and was created in a time when great innovations were taking place around Europe. One of these innovations was the art of lithography, a form of printing that involves using chemicals on a flat, smooth surface to transfer images.

Niépce became entranced by the lithographic process and began toying with its potential. A poor draftsman, he depended on his artistically inclined son Isidore to create illustrations for his lithographic pursuits. Isidore, however, was drafted into Napoleon’s army, leaving Niépce unable to create lithographs. Intent on finding a way to create images without having to draw them, Niépce turned to the camera obscura, a device developed in the Renaissance in which an image could be projected through a small hole into a darkened box or room. Inside this darkened space an image would be cast as a realistic, albeit upside down, projection. Niépce thought to capture this image using a light-sensitive material so that the light itself would “etch” the picture for him. In 1826, through a process of trial and error, he finally came upon the combination of bitumen of Judea (a form of asphalt) spread over a pewter plate. When he let this petroleum-based substance sit in a camera obscura for eight hours without interruption, the light gradually hardened the bitumen where it hit, thus creating a rudimentary photo. He “developed” this picture by washing away the unhardened bitumen with lavender water, revealing an image of the rooftops and trees visible from his studio window. Niépce had successfully made the world’s first photograph.

(Harry Ransom Centre, 2014)

View from The Window at Le Gras,1826, Nicephore Niépce.

Plate in frame. View from the Window at Le Gras," Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, ca. 1826

Image cleaned up,

View from the Window at Le Gras," Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, ca. 1826


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