Thursday, March 11, 2010

The oldest heliographic engraving in the world

Photo: The first known surviving heliographic engraving in the world, made by French inventor Joseph Nicephore Niepce in 1825 by contact under an engraving with the heliographic process.

Niepce’s seminal work was a step towards the first permanent photography taken with a camera obscura, an optical device that projects an image of its surroundings on a screen. It is a reproduction of a 17th century Flemish engraving, showing a man leading a horse. The Bibliothèque nationale de France bought it for euro 450,000 € in 2002, deeming it as a national treasure.

Photography evolved as a result of studies and scientific inventions over many centuries. Long before the first photographs were shot, Chinese philosopher Mo Di described a pinhole camera in 5th century BCE. Ibn al-Haytham (965-1040) studied the camera obscura and pinhole camera, Albertus Magnus (1193-1280) invented silver nitrate, and Georges Fabricius (1516-1571) invented silver chloride. Daniel Barbaro described a diaphragm in 1568. Wilhelm Homberg explained photochemical effect, i.e., how light darkened some chemicals, in 1694. The fiction book Giphantie (1760) by French author Tiphaigne de la Roche described what can be interpreted as photography.

The first permanent photo-etching was an image produced in 1822 by Nicéphore Niépce, but it was destroyed by an attempt to duplicate it. However, Niépce was successful to produce another etching again in 1825 (see photo). He made the first permanent photograph with a camera obscura in 1826. His photographs took as long as 8 hours to expose. So, to find a new process, he worked with Louis Daguerre and they experimented with silver compounds, based on the discovery by Johann Heinrich Schultz in 1724 that a silver and chalk mixture darkens when exposed to light.

Though Niépce died in 1833, Daguerre continued the work and developed the daguerreotype in 1837, and took the first ever photo of a person in 1839 when, while taking a daguerreotype of a Paris street, a pedestrian stopped for a shoe shine, long enough to be captured by the long exposure of several minutes. Later, France agreed to pay Daguerre a pension for his formula in exchange for his promise to announce his discovery to the world as the gift of France which he did in 1839.

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