Getty takes a closer look at the origins of photography

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Historians seem to agree that the first photographic images were created around 1825 by Joseph Nicephore Niépce, a French scientist who experimented with various imagery techniques, including heliographs made on pewter plates.

This week, the Getty Conservation Institute is presenting research that reveals new details about how Niépce created those first photographic likenesses. Working with the National Media Museum in Bradford, England, the Getty said that one of Niépce’s images, titled ‘Un Clair de Lune,’ that was thought to be a photograph enhanced with etching is actually a photograph without any hand tooling at all.


‘That was something of a big surprise,’ said Dusan Stulik, a senior scientist at the Getty who has been involved in the project. ‘Our research has provided us with a deeper and broader understanding of his work than we had before.’

To create his early photographs, Niépce used pewter plates and a resin-like material that helped the plate accept images, according to the Getty.

In 1827, Niépce brought some of these plates to England to demonstrate his techniques to The Royal Society, but he was unable to share his experiments due to problems at the institution at the time.

The Getty is presenting its historical findings at a conference this week in England at the National Media Museum. The museum houses three of the four known surviving plates taken to England by Niépce. The remaining plate is on display at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, where it is known as the ‘First Photograph.’

During his career, Niépce worked on and off with Louis Daguerre, who is often credited with pioneering the art of photography with the daguerreotype.

-- David Ng