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Keith Dotson | Catching Shadows

THE OFFICIAL BLOG OF FINE ART PHOTOGRAPHER KEITH DOTSON

A look at the world’s first photograph

A look at the world’s first photograph

The world’s first photograph can be seen in Austin, Texas

If you search for the world’s first photo, you’ll usually see the top version below, a contrasty image of a view out the studio window of French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, entitled “View from the Window at Le Gras,” which was printed in 1826. But the actual photograph — the object made by Niépce — can be seen at the Harry Ransom Center on the campus of The University of Texas in Austin.

First photograph, View from the Window at Le Gras (Retouched), Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, ca. 1826 Gernsheim Collection, Harry Ransom Center.
First photograph, View from the Window at Le Gras (Retouched), Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, ca. 1826
Gernsheim Collection, Harry Ransom Center.

As shown below, the actual print is very faint, barely visible in person. It’s made of a pewter plate coated with bitumen. The image was made using the camera obscura technique, exposed to a pinhole of sunlight for hours.

A photograph of the world's first photograph, which can be seen under light-controlled conditions at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin. Photo by J. Paul Getty Museum. Gernsheim Collection, Harry Ransom Center.
A photograph of the world’s first photograph, which can be seen under light-controlled conditions at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin. Photo by J. Paul Getty Museum. Gernsheim Collection, Harry Ransom Center.

I’ve been to see the world’s first photograph at the HRC several times. When I last visited, it was housed in a light-controlled booth and the actual image was difficult to discern. Now it has been given a beautiful display case as shown below. It’s worth a visit — in fact, for people who love photography, it should be pilgrimage. There’s only one “world’s first photograph,” and you can see it yourself.

World's first photograph shown in it's permanent display window. Photo courtesy of Harry Ransom Center.
World’s first photograph shown in it’s permanent display window. Photo courtesy of Harry Ransom Center.

Visit the Harry Ransom Center

Hours, maps, and parking directions are here.

Admission is free.

Thanks for reading!

Be sure to visit me on FacebookYouTubePinterest, or on my website at keithdotson.com.

~ Keith


Sources: All images courtesy of the Harry Ransom Center

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