View from the Window at Le Gras

Coordinates: 46°43′37″N 4°51′26″E / 46.72694°N 4.85722°E / 46.72694; 4.85722
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The original plate (left) and colorized reoriented, enhancement (right). The photo was found to be taken at his home from a second-story south-facing bedroom window.[1]

View from the Window at Le Gras[2] (French: Point de vue du Gras) is a heliographic image and the oldest surviving camera photograph. It was created by French inventor Nicéphore Niépce sometime between 1822 and 1827[3][4][5][6][7][8][9] in Saint-Loup-de-Varennes, France, and shows parts of the buildings and surrounding countryside of his estate, Le Gras [fr], as seen from a high window.


Demonstration of camera obscura. The original image gets rotated and reversed through a small hole onto an opposite surface.

Niépce captured the scene with a camera obscura projected onto a 16.2 cm × 20.2 cm (6.4 in × 8.0 in) pewter plate thinly coated with bitumen of Judea, a naturally occurring asphalt.[10] The bitumen hardened in the brightly lit areas, but in the dimly lit areas it remained soluble and could be washed away with a mixture of oil of lavender and white petroleum.[10]

A very long exposure in the camera was required. Sunlight strikes the buildings on opposite sides, suggesting an exposure that lasted about eight hours, which has become the traditional estimate. A researcher who studied Niépce's notes and recreated his processes found that the exposure must have continued for several days.[11]

Early history[edit]

In late 1826, Niépce visited the United Kingdom. He showed this and several other specimens of his work to botanical illustrator Francis Bauer. View from the Window at Le Gras was the only example of a camera photograph; the rest were contact-exposed copies of artwork. Bauer encouraged him to present his "heliography" process to the Royal Society. Niépce wrote and submitted a paper but was unwilling to reveal any specific details in it, so the Royal Society rejected it based on a rule that prohibited presentations about undisclosed secret processes. Before returning to France, Niépce gave his paper and the specimens to Bauer. Niépce died suddenly in 1833, due to a stroke.

After the pioneering photographic processes of Louis Daguerre and Henry Fox Talbot were publicly announced in January 1839, Bauer championed Niépce's right to be acknowledged as the first inventor of a process for making permanent photographs. On March 9, 1839, the specimens were finally exhibited at the Royal Society.[12] After Bauer's death in 1840 they passed through several hands and were occasionally exhibited as historical curiosities. View from the Window at Le Gras was last publicly shown in 1905 and then fell into obscurity for nearly fifty years.[13]


Gernsheim's enhanced version
The original plate on display at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas, in 2004

Historians Helmut Gernsheim and his wife, Alison Gernsheim, tracked down the photograph in 1952 and brought it to prominence, reinforcing the claim that Niépce is the inventor of photography. They had an expert at the Kodak Research Laboratory make a modern photographic copy, but it proved extremely difficult to produce an adequate representation of all that could be seen when inspecting the actual plate.

Helmut Gernsheim heavily retouched one of the copy prints to clean it up and make the scene more comprehensible, and until the late 1970s he allowed only that enhanced version to be published. It became apparent that at some point in time after the copying in 1952, the plate was disfigured and acquired bumps near three of its corners, which caused light to reflect in ways that interfered with the visibility of those areas and of the image as a whole.

During the 1950s and early 1960s, the Gernsheims toured the photograph to several exhibitions in continental Europe.[14] In 1963, Harry Ransom purchased most of the Gernsheims' photography collection for the University of Texas at Austin. Although it has rarely traveled since then, in 2012–2013 it visited Mannheim, Germany, as part of an exhibition entitled The Birth of Photography—Highlights of the Helmut Gernsheim Collection. It is normally on display in the main lobby of the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas.[10]

Scientific analysis and conservation[edit]

During a study and conservation project in 2002–2003, scientists at the Getty Conservation Institute examined the photograph using X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy, reflectance Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, and other techniques.[15] They confirmed that the image consists of bitumen and that the metal plate is pewter (tin alloyed with lead, as well as trace amounts of iron, copper, and nickel).[16] The institute also designed and built the elaborate display case system that now houses the artifact in a continuously monitored, stabilized, oxygen-free environment.[17]

In 2007, scientists from the Louvre Museum published an analysis of the photograph using ion beam analysis,[18] with data taken on their 2 MV electrostatic accelerator.[19] This showed the details of the oxidation process that was corroding the image.


In 2003, Life listed View from the Window at Le Gras among 100 Photographs that Changed the World.[20] In an article for Art on Paper, View from the Window at Le Gras was said to have a "fair claim" as the first photograph.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "le point de vue du Gras de Nicéphore Niépce". Retrieved 2020-04-04.
  2. ^ "First photograph, View from the Window at Le Gras, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, ca. 1826". University of Texas at Austin. Retrieved May 20, 2017.
  3. ^ Kaja Silverman, « The Miracle of Analogy : Or The History of Photography », vol. 1, Stanford University Press, 2015 (ISBN 978-0-8047-9327-8 et 978-0-8047-9399-5), p. 60–65.
  4. ^ Pierre-Georges Harmant et Paul Marillier, « Some Thoughts on the World's First Photograph », The Photographic Journal (en), vol. 107, no 4, avril 1967, p. 130–140, trad. « À propos de la plus ancienne photographie du monde », Photo-Ciné-Revue, mai 1972, p. 231–237.
  5. ^ Helmut Gernsheim, « The 150th Anniversary of Photography », « History of Photography », vol. 1, no 1, janvier 1977, p. 3–8 (DOI 10.1080/03087298.1977.10442876
  6. ^ 1826 is also mentioned p.14, in the chapter written by Paul-Louis Roubert and François Brunet on the specialized reference book « L'art De La Photographie - Des Origines À Nos Jours », directed by André Gunthert and Michel Poivert, published by Citadelles et Mazenod publisher, ISBN 9782850886805
  7. ^ French: « La première photographie au monde », Études photographiques, no 3 « Frontières de l'image / Le territoire et le document », November 1997, where it is mentioned “(fig. 1. Nicéphore Niépce, "Point de vue du Gras", 1826, héliographie sur étain, 16,6 x 20,2 cm, encadrée). [p. 12]”
  8. ^ Some Thoughts on the World's First Photograph ", The Photographic Journal, vol. 107 (4), avril 1967, p. 130-140 ; cf. H. Gernsheim, The origins of Photography, Londres, New York, Thames and Hudson, 1982, p. 34. : in 1982, Gernsheim goes back on his dating, and validate the date of 1826, proposed by P.-G. Harmant et P. Marillier in 1967.
  9. ^ "Dans ce village Nicéphore Niépce inventa la photographie en 1822". Daily Kos. Retrieved 2024-05-13.
  10. ^ a b c "The First Photograph". Harry Ransom Center. Utexas. Archived from the original on 18 January 2012. Retrieved 14 January 2012.
  11. ^ "Niépce and the Invention of Photography". Nicephore Niepce House Photo Museum. Académie des sciences & de l'Académie des beaux-arts. French Ministry of Culture. Retrieved 5 May 2016.
  12. ^ Lowry, Bates and Lowry, Isabel Barrett (1998). The Silver Canvas: Daguerreotype Masterpieces from the J. Paul Getty Museum. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. p. 213, note 51.
  13. ^ The Harry Ransom Center: The First Photograph: History. Retrieved 27 May 2013.
  14. ^ "The Harry Ransom Center: The First Photograph: Exhibition history". Harry Ransom Center. Utexas. Archived from the original on 21 February 2015. Retrieved 6 March 2015.
  15. ^ Analyzing the world's first photograph. Precious image studied at Getty Institute in Los Angeles. Archived June 15, 2012, at the Wayback Machine National Public Radio, April 7, 2002. Retrieved August 26, 2008.
  16. ^ Brown, Barbara N. (November 2002). "GCI/HRC Research World's First Photograph". Abbey Newsletter. Vol. 26, no. 3. Archived from the original on 2019-08-03. Retrieved 15 March 2015.
  17. ^ Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin. The first photograph: conservation and preservation. Retrieved August 26, 2008.
  18. ^ Pascual-Izarra, Carlos; Barradas, Nuno P.; Reis, Miguel A.; Jeynes, Chris; Menu, Michel; Lavedrine, Bertrand; Ezrati, Jean Jacques; Röhrs, Stefan (2007-08-31). "Towards truly simultaneous PIXE and RBS analysis of layered objects in cultural heritage". Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research Section B: Beam Interactions with Materials and Atoms. 261 (1–2): 426–429. arXiv:0707.2448. Bibcode:2007NIMPB.261..426P. doi:10.1016/j.nimb.2007.04.259. S2CID 97715369.
  19. ^ "Art et Science - AGLAE, un accélérateur de particules au Louvre, par Guillaume Achard-Vincent". February 23, 2014. Archived from the original on 2014-02-23.
  20. ^ "100 Photographs that Changed the World". The Digital Journalist. Retrieved 2012-01-14.
  21. ^ "A New Look at the First Photograph". Art on Paper. 7 (1): 24. 2002. ISSN 1521-7922. JSTOR 24559087.

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