Joseph Nicéphore Niépce’s View from the Window at Le Gras—the First Photograph (1826)
Niépce set up a camera obscura, placed within it a polished pewter plate coated with bitumen of Judea (an asphalt derivative of petroleum), and uncapped the lens. After at least a day-long exposure of eight hours, the plate was removed and the latent image of the view from the window was rendered visible by washing it with a mixture of oil of lavender and white petroleum which dissolved away the parts of the bitumen which had not been hardened by light. The result: a view, made from an upper rear window of the Niépce family home in Burgundy, [from left to right]: the upper loft (or, so-called “pigeon-house”) of the family home; a pear tree with a patch of sky showing through an opening in the branches; the slanting roof of the barn, with the long roof and low chimney of the bake house behind it; and, on the right, another wing of the family house. Details in the original image are very faint, due not to fading—the heliographic process is a relatively permanent one—but rather to Niépce’s underexposure of the original plate.