Silver 2 Sensor : Episode 4 ( View from the Window at Le Gras )

In the last episode, we saw how the idea of capturing images permanently, entered into the mind of Thomas Wedgwood when he was looking for a good teaching medium for children. During some unsuccessful attempts to make images using silver salts, he met Humphry Davy, a chemist who had a good knowledge in the use of silver salts. Soon they started working on scientific paper which featured the mechanism of how to use silver salts to copy images of paintings on glass.

They completed the paper in the year 1802 and Humphry Davy mailed it to the journal of the Royal Institution. This research publication attracted physicists from all over the world. The paper was translated into various other languages like Germany and French. Many scientists and researchers started experimenting with silver salts to create photographs.

But one man named Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, a French inventor (he invented the world’s first internal combustion engine) created the first photograph in 1822 on a copper plate through a technique called “Heliography”.

( World’s first photograph created using Heliography ) 

Heliography is a process that used bitumen (an asphalt like substance), as a coating on glass or metal, which hardened in relation to exposure to light. When the plate was washed with oil of lavender, only the hardened image area remained. But he noticed that many of his images started fading quickly. So he couldn’t get much of a success upon using bitumen. So began experimenting with silver compounds based on a Johann Heinrich Schultz discovery in 1727 that silver nitrate (AgNO3) darkens when exposed to light.

At the same time another French physicist and artist named Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, also was experimenting with photography and imaging techniques. Soon Niépce and Daguerre started working together and developed a photographic process called “Physautotype”. Physautotype used lavender oil mixed with oil as one of the photographic agent. The resulting solution was coated on a silver plate and will be kept inside a Camera obscura for several hours in order to get the final image.

The French duo continued experimenting with various photo processing techniques till 1833, when Joseph Nicéphore Niépce died. Even though he died he is actual person, who takes credit for the world’s earliest surviving photograph (1826). The image named “View from the Window at Le Gras” was rediscovered in 1952 by historians Alison and Helmut Gernsheim.

 ( World’s Earliest surviving photograph “View from the Window at Le Gras” taken in 1826 )

As of 2008 Niépce’s photograph, is on display in the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

But innovations don’t stop with Niépce. Even after the death of Niépce, Daguerre started experimenting with various chemical techniques to process an image and found out a successful way to create and process images in a better way. He named it as “Daguerreotype” after his name.

According to the records, Daguerreotype was the first commercial photographic process which created a direct positive of an image on the camera.

More about Daguerreotype in the coming episodes…

To be continued…

Leave a Reply