Finding the Right Type

Founders of photography Niepce and Daguerre with photographer (chromolitho) [Source: Bridgeman Education]

In a previous post, A New Painting, I referred to how Joseph Nicephore Niepce made the innovative breakthrough of creating a permanent photographic image in c.1826. Before then painting was the main method of recording an image on paper.

Unfortunately Nicéphore Niépce died in 1833, and so he had very little time to refine and build on his discovery. For a short while he collaborated with Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre to refine the process. He was a decorator, manufacturer of mirrors and panorama painter of theatrical stage illusions. Daguerre’s artistic and stage design led him to invent the ‘diorama’. A diorama was a mobile theatrical experience viewed by an audience in highly specialised theatres.

In order to reproduce the large scale panoramas, Daguerre would have used a camera obscura to project an image that could be traced. Luckily for photography, both Niépce and Daguerre shared the same optician, Vincent Chevalier, who was responsible for the two pioneers of photography meeting for the first time in December 1827. It is interesting to note that the partnership consisted of an artist and a scientist. Right from its infancy, photography was born as both an art form and a science. Despite this new partnership, Niépce and Daguerre were unable to significantly reduce the exposure time of the bitumen process. This meant that it was impossible to photograph people without them being blurred and having to sit for unacceptably long periods of time. However between them they had formulated a new ‘physautotype’ process, using tree resins and the residue of lavender oil distillation as photosensitive agents.

Daguerre and Niépce’s partnership was forged by a legally binding contract that stated:

In the eventuality of one of the partners demise, this one will be replaced in the company for the rest of the ten years that would not be expired, by his natural heir.

Therefore after Nicephore Niépce’s death in 1833, his son Isidore Niépce, continued to work alongside Daguerre. Unfortunately Isidore was unable to provide the same level of expertise as his father, leaving Daguerre to pursue and refine his own process, which would eventually be known as the daguerreotype. Using his own name in his invention secured Daguerre’s place in history, showing little acknowledgement for Nicephore Niépce’s involvement. Like the first heliographic exposures he made in the early 1820s, the founder of the permanent photograph faded from history.

Offering a much shorter exposure time, the daguerreotype is a direct positive made in the camera on a silvered coppered plate. The plate is mirrored, with the image formed directly on the silvery surface. Fitting lenses with larger diameters to the camera and modifying the chemistry involved, enabled the exposure time to be reduced even further.

After a presentation to the Sciences Academy of the three photographic processes (heliography, physautotype, and daguerreotype) on Monday 19th August 1839, it was clear that only Daguerre’s process would be successful. This innovation would quickly lead to Daguerreotypomania throughout France.




French School (? – 1900) “Founders of photography Niepce and Daguerre with photographer” (chromolitho). [online image]. Private Collection. Available from: %5B3/5/13%5D

About Matt

Photography degree student with the Open College of the Arts.
This entry was posted in History of photography, People & Place and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Finding the Right Type

  1. Pingback: Reading Around the Subject | Digital Eye

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