The first successful permanent photograph

View from the Window at Le Gras was the first successful permanent photograph, created by Nicéphore Niépce in 1826 at Saint-Loup-de-Varennes. Niépce captured the photo with a camera obscura focused onto a sheet of 20 × 25 cm oil-treated bitumen.
He put a metal plate covered with a chemical called bitumen into a camera box. The bitumen got hard on the parts of the plate exposed to the sun. When the plate was washed, a permanent picture remained.

It took Niépce eight hours to expose this photograph. As a result of the 8-hour exposure, sunlight illuminates the buildings on both sides. After an unsuccessful trip to Britain to attempt to interest the Royal Society in the process, Niépce gave the photo to the botanist Francis Bauer. It was last publicly exhibited in 1898, and was thereafter forgotten. Helmut Gernsheim brought the photo to prominence again in 1952 and the Eastman Kodak Company made a copy. In 1973, the University of Texas acquired the plate from Helmut Gernsheim. Today, the plate is on display at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center. Life listed it among “100 Photographs that Changed the World”.

Photography is undoubtedly one of the most important inventions in history — it has truly transformed how people conceive of the world. Now we can “see” all sorts of things that are actually many miles — and years — away from us. Photography lets us capture moments in time and preserve them for years to come.

Camera obscura - the principle of the camera

Photography has always been a game of lights and shadows, projecting through the lens to capture a moment that is meant to last forever. While most people would accept this statement without putting much more thought into it, for those true aficionados of photography, it means everything. It’s what makes photography special, a magic brought to life by an apparatus that has the ability to bend reality into a single frame. An illusion for the eyes immortalized for eternity.

Although the principle of the camera was known in antiquity, the actual chemistry needed to register an image was not available until the nineteenth century.

Artists from the Renaissance onwards used a camera obscura (Latin for dark chamber), or a small hole in the wall of a darkened box that would pass light through the hole and project an upside down image of whatever was outside the box. However, it was not until the invention of a light sensitive surface by Frenchman Joseph Nicéphore Niépce that the basic principle of photography was born.

For more interesting photography, photographs I’m sure you’ve seen as well as some you haven’t, check out Life Magazine’s 100 Photographs that Changed the World.

  • First successful picture was produced in June/July 1827 by Frenchman, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce.
  • Joseph Nicéphore Niépce invented a light sensitive surface
  • Basic principle of photography was born