Brief History of Photography


Thomas Wedwood (1760-1805) used light to produce an image on paper but was unable to fix it: his photographs became totally dark in seconds. Thus, the way was paved to some extent for the French inventor J.N. Niepce, who thought of an automatic drawing technique when his son and illustrator Isidore left for military service. In 1816 Niepce adapted a camara obscura and obtained a negative image on paper but could not fix it, like all his predecessors. In 1822 he was able to keep the images long enough for transference to a metallic plate: he invented photogravure, the basis of commercial printing for more than a century. In 1824 he was finally able to stop the photochemical process by adding another substance, and, in this way fixed the photographs.

Niepce made this photograph, dated 1827, that appears to be the oldest surviving photograph. If it were auctioned, the price would be astronomical.

J.N. Niepce (1765-1833).
View through a window in Gras. Niepce, 1827 (exposure time: 8 hours).