A Very Early Photograph


Are you interested in early photography? Very early photography? How about the first photograph ever taken? It still exists and it is the cornerstone of the Gernsheim Collection in the Harry Ransom center at the University of Texas at Austin.

I was walking through the University with my brother who was visiting from San Diego, California. We decided to go into the recently renovated Harry Ransom center to see an exhibition on Edgar Allen Poe. On the way out something caught my eye. There was a sign with a strange name on it that rung a bell – Joseph Nicéphore Niépce. That’s certainly an odd name – here in the States at least – but I was pretty sure I knew it from something important. I walked over to a very carefully constructed enclosure. It was clearly holding something important, but it was a bit hard to see what it was. At least it didn’t look like much from a distance. I got closer and read the description of the artifact. Imagine my surprise when I realized I was looking at the very first photograph ever taken. The actual one. Not a reproduction – there were a few – not one of his later photographs using the same process. This was the very first one taken in 1826. It’s very hard to see the image if you’re not looking at it from just the right direction, but apparently this is what it originally looked like. The image doesn’t fade, it was just severely underexposed.

You can read an excellent description of how the photo was made, it’s history, how it ended up in Texas, and what their doing to preserve this important piece of history at their web page here

If you’re ever in Austin, you might consider stopping by the University to have a look at this photo if for nothing else just be be able to brag the you’ve seen the very first picture ever taken.

written by gvelasco on 2010-11-16 #news #history #early #first #niepce #heliograph


  1. mikailus
    mikailus ·

    No dates?

  2. thufflife
    thufflife ·

    ca 1827

  3. traveler1
    traveler1 ·

    is this the positive or negative?
    if its the positive, then at the end of the first paragraph it should be overexposed, not underexposed.
    cool though.

  4. gvelasco
    gvelasco ·

    @mikailus: I mention in the article the picture was produced in 1826. Some people date it a year later as thufflife said. If you're asking about the date of the exhibition, it's indeterminate. It is now part of the University of Texas' permanent holdings. They created a special enclosure to preserve it and keep it on permanent exhibition.

    @traveler1: It's a bit hard to tell. The description of the picture says that it's a direct positive, but the description of the process would make me think that it would produce a negative. The windows in the buildings are dark and the roof is light. This picture was take in daylight with at least an eight hour exposure. There was no printing process. The developing and fixing was a single step that consisted of washing away the photosensitive chemicals on the pewter substrate. I guess a longer exposure would have increased the contrast. Maybe that's why it's referred to as underexposed.

  5. cruzron
    cruzron ·

    @gvelasco - thanks for all the info!

More Interesting Articles