Joseph Niepce and his world’s first photograph

Heliography technology including was developed by Niépce at the turn of the 1810s and 1820s. In fact, the parents – Burgundian aristocrats (his father was an adviser to King Louis XV!) – planned that their son would become a priest. However, in 1792, the young man preferred an officer’s church career and joined the revolutionary army. He took an active part in the hostilities in Sardinia and Italy, but health problems after suffering typhus forced him to resign. Regimental commander General Kervegen, saying goodbye to Niepce, said: “I lose in your face the brightest head of my headquarters.”

In 1795 he settled in Nice as a civil servant and married. However, only for 6 years. Then Niepce returned to his father’s house and began research with his older brother Claude. Their first invention was pyreophorus, an internal combustion engine that was quite suitable for moving a boat along the Seine. As a fuel for the engine, lycopodium was originally used – a powder from spores of various species of plants of the club family, then a mixture of coal and tar, as well as asphalt and oil. Later, it was these materials that were used by Joseph Niepce in his first heliographic experiments.

In 1816, Claude left for Paris, hoping to find great opportunities there for the implementation of his engine, and then to London, where he remained forever. Left alone, Joseph set about building a camera obscura “six inches on each side and with an extendable tube and lens.” The date when he started work on the camera is known: April 12, a month after Claude’s departure.

Niépceme originally used silver salt to produce his photographic image, which turns black on contact with daylight. He was able to get a negative, but when the silver salt was released from the camera, the whole picture turned black. Later, the inventor experimented with copper or limestone plates coated with a thin layer of bitumen. For the first time, Joseph Niepce received a fixed image around 1822: it was called “The Laid Table”, but the image has not been preserved. The 1926 photograph is kept at the Harry Ransom Research Center in Austin, Texas, enclosed in a special case filled with an oxygen-free gas mixture that slows down aging.

The brothers spent all their inheritance money on various kinds of inventions, but none made them rich. Joseph’s son, Isidore Niepce, continued his father’s work, becoming a companion of Louis Daguerre, an inventor. This silver iodide-based photography technology was more workable and was used for two decades, supplanted in the second half of the 19th century by cheaper and more convenient processes.