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25.11.03

Nicéphore Niépce

First photograph by Nicéphore Niépce, 1827Nicéphore [Joseph] Niépce (1765–1833) experimented with viable photographic processes in the 1810s to 1820s. In the summer of 1827, he created what is thought to be the first photograph (shown at right), after an exposure of eight hours (for this reason, the sun in that photograph appears to shine from opposing directions simultaneously). It would be far too simple to say that he invented photography, because the photographic process has undergone so many significant modifications since then. Now you can visit his house in Saint-Loup-de-Varennes, France, where exhibits have been set up that try to reproduce his experiments with light. There is also the Musée Nicéphore Niépce in Chalon-sur-Saône. There is also lots of good information from the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film, as well as photographic images in their online photography collections.

I haven't decided yet how I feel about the impending demise of analog photography, with plates and chemicals and darkrooms. Niépce, Louis Daguerre, William Henry Fox Talbot, and all those people who suffered through the hassles of making photographs would surely all be thrilled at the concept of digital photography, which is so easy, instantaneous, and available to anyone. Still, I cannot help but think that old photographic images and what they evoke visually cannot be replaced with pixels on a hard drive. I could spend and have already spent a lot of time looking at old photographs (see the exhibit Portraits/Visages at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, mentioned in my post on November 13; or the online Photos and Prints collection from American Memory at the Library of Congress). Of course, I am looking at these images mostly through my computer, so I guess I should stop worrying.

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