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History of photography: Niepce shots

NIEPS (Niepce) Nicephore (full name Joseph Nicephorus) (March 7, 1765, Chalon-sur-Saone, France – July 5, 1833, ibid.), French inventor, one of the creators of photography. For the first time (1820s) he found a way to fix the image obtained in the camera obscura, using asphalt varnish (heliography) as a photosensitive substance. From 1829 he collaborated with L. Dager.

Joseph Nicephore Nieppez
Nicephore Nieppese was born into a rich family. His father was an adviser to the king, and his mother was the daughter of a famous lawyer. Interest in invention was manifested in Niepce in childhood, but he was preparing for a spiritual career; abandoning it in 1792, he became an army officer. He left the army in the first period of the French Revolution due to royalist sympathies. With the arrival of Napoleon, Niepce returned to the army and participated in hostilities in Sardinia and in Italy. Due to poor health, he retired and was in Nice for several years as a government official. In 1801 he returned home to Chalon and with his brother Claude devoted his entire future life to scientific research.

Niepce until 1813 for many years engaged in improving the method of flat printing – lithography, invented by A. Zenefelder in 1796. Heavy Bavarian limestone, which Zenefelder used as a printing form, was replaced by a sheet of tin. On this sheet, his son drew pictures in bold color pencil. Niepce himself did not know how to draw, and after his son was drafted into the army, he began experimenting with salts of silver. He sought to make light draw. It was possible to reach the goal with the help of asphalt varnish (bitumen) dissolved in animal oil. He applied this solution on a plate made of glass, copper, or a tin-lead alloy and exposed it in a camera obscuration for several hours. Thus, the “first photographic paper” was made of asphalt (!). When the image obtained on the coating hardened and became visible with the simple eye, Niepce in the dark room treated the plate with acid. It dissolved the coating of the lines of the image, protected from exposure to light during exposure and remained soft and soluble (for other sources, the asphalt was washed out with lavender oil and kerosene). Then the engraver clearly engraved the lines, covered the plate with ink and stamped the required number of copies, as it used to be done from any etched or engraved plates. The result was an engraving created not by an artist, but by light – heliography (translated from the Greek as “painted with light”). The first persistent image in the camera obscura Niepce received in 1822. However, only heliography in 1826 remained, when Niepce began to use tin-lead alloy instead of copper and zinc plates. The exposition lasted eight hours (!).

The heliographic image of Niepce is a view from the window of his workshop. Executed in 1826
So for the first time in history Niepce managed to get rid of the artist’s services and fix the exact image of an object “painted” with light. For this, he first applied one of the materials that are sensitive to light – asphalt varnish. But it used the manual engraver. Such heliogravure represented only the initial stage in the invention of photography. The sharpness of the image on heliogravures was not great. Niepce invented the diaphragm to correct defects in the image obtained with an open lens of the camera obscura.

In 1827 Niepce met with Louis Daguerre, the wealthy and prosperous owner of the Paris diorama, who offered him cooperation. And Niepce, 64, sick and in need of funds for further research, in 1829 signed a 10-year contract with Dager to improve Nieps’s open method of “fixing images of nature without seeking the help of an artist”, including in him the condition Isidore will be heir if Niepce dies before the expiration of the contract. Niepce sent Dageru a detailed description of his heliography process, and also demonstrated all the techniques for performing the processes, for which Dager specifically came to Chalon. Later they never met again: each of them worked independently on the invention.

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