Joseph Nicéphore Niépce and the Invention of Photography

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, born at Chalon-sur-Saône in 1765, shared a passion for research with his brother Claude: they kept corresponding with each other about their experiences, and it’s thanks to this exchange of letters that we know about the work of Niépce.

From 1816, Niépce became interested in lithography and conducted many trials. He discovered that Judean pitch has the property of hardening in the light; while exposing a translucent drawing on a plate coated in this substance, he succeeded in obtaining a picture. He christened this process heliography.

Niépce exposed these same plates in a darkened camera and thereby succeeded in obtaining the first photograph. The oldest photographs known to this day, reproduced here, took him a day to expose.
The video made by Jean-Louis Marignier, a French researcher, on show a little further along, will allow you to discover a reconstitution of this first process.

Le cardinal d’Ambroise engraving by Isaac Briot, heliography by J. N. Niépce, 1826 (Collections du Science Museum, Londres). The engraving, made translucent by the application of a varnish, is placed in contact with a tin plate sensitized with Judean bitumen. After exposure to light for several hours, the plate is rinsed in a lavender oil-based bath: the bitumen has hardened and remains insoluble in the areas where the light has passed through the document, it dissolves in the protected areas. light. This creates a negative imprint of the plaque which is immersed in an acid bath using the etching technique. The acid attacks areas of bare metal (where the bitumen has been dissolved). After removing the bitumen remaining in the exposed areas, the positive indentation of the original engraving appears on the plate. Simply ink this plate and pull it through a traditional press in contact with a sheet of paper.