© Joseph Nicéphore Nièpce, ca. 1826, 'View from the Window at Le Gras', Heliography (Color digital print reproduction, June 2002)

Niépce was a French inventor, most noted as one of the inventors of photography and a pioneer in the field. He is most noted for producing the world’s first known photograph in 1826, shot at his family’s country home.

Niépce produced his photo—a view of a courtyard and outbuildings seen from the house’s upstairs window—by exposing a bitumen-coated plate in a camera obscura on his windowsill. The experiment took about 8 hours to expose on an asphalt plate. By the late 1830s, Niepce’s friend Louis Daguerre found a way to fix sharp images for portraits.

The photo is known as the world’s earliest surviving photograph.

Niépce’s First Photograph received critical scientific diagnosis, when it traveled to the Getty Conservation Institute in California. For over two weeks in the summer of 2002, scientists and conservators at this prestigious facility subjected the artifact, its frame, and support materials to extensive and rigorous non-destructive testing. The result was a very complete scientific and technical analysis of the object, which in turn provided better criteria for its secure and permanent case design and presentation in the lobby of the newly-renovated Harry Ransom Center.

The plate also received extensive attention from the photographic technicians at the Institute, who spent a day and a half with the original heliograph in their photographic studios in order to record photographically and digitally all aspects of the plate. The object was documented under all manner of scientific lights, including infrared and ultraviolet spectra. In addition, the photographers also followed in the footsteps of the Kodak Labs a half century earlier and produced new color film and digital/electronic copies of the plate, in an attempt to reveal more of the unretouched image while still providing a sense of the complex physical state of the photograph.

Helmut Gernsheim & Kodak Research Laboratory, Harrow, England / Gelatin silver print with applied watercolor reproduction of Joseph Nicéphore Niépce’s View from the Window at Le Gras, March 20-21, 1952

This most famous reproduction of the First Photograph was based upon the March 1952 print, produced at Helmut Gernsheim’s request by the Research Laboratory of the Eastman Kodak Company in Harrow. The pointillistic effect is due to the reproduction process and is not present in the original heliograph. Gernsheim himself spent eleven hours on March 20, 1952, touching up with watercolors one of the prints of the Kodak reproduction. His attempt was meant to bring the heliograph as close as possible to a positive representation of how he felt Niépce intended the original should appear. It is this version of the image which would become the accepted reproduction of the image for the next fifty years.

Read more about this famous photograph here.