Until recently (early 2000s)
1839 has generally been regarded as the year that photography, as we know
However, there had been
earlier experiments by earlier pioneers, two of whom I mention below.
(1771-1805) from Staffordshire, England, was born
into a line of pottery manufacturers. He was son of the potter,
He had an interest in education, and attempted to create permanent
pictures by the use of light, as he thought these could become a useful
In the early-1790s, Thomas
Wedgwood experimented with silver nitrate in his attempts to create
permanent pictures on various materials, including ceramic, glass, paper and
He had some success, particularly on the white leather, but to preserve
the image, it had to be kept in a dark room, as on exposure to light, the
image would soon disappear.
Chemist, Humphry Davy
(1778-1829) wrote up Wedgewood's experiments in a
paper published by the Royal Institution in London in 1802, titled:
"An Account of a Method of Copying Paintings
upon Glass, and of Making Profiles, by the Agency of Light upon Nitrate of
Invented by T Wedgwood, Esq."
David Brewster (who went on to become the President of the Photographic
Society of Scotland, based in Edinburgh in 1856) published an
account of this paper in the Edinburgh Magazine in December 1802.
In his paper, commenting on
Wedgewood process, Humphry Davy wrote:
"Immediately after being taken, [the picture]
must be kept in some obscure place. It may indeed be examined in the
shade, but in this case the exposure should be only for a few minutes; by
the light of candles and lamps, as commonly employed, it is not sensibly
However, some historians, including Dr Larry J Schaaf, have suggested
that Wedgwood may in fact have been successful in 'fixing' some of his
images so that they would not fade. If so, this would give him a far
more prominent status in the history of photography.
Most of the details
above have been taken from the
Wikipedia page for Thomas Wedgwood
Joseph Nicéphore Niépce
Joseph Nicéphore Niépce
(1765-1833) was son of a wealthy lawyer. He served in the French
army under Napoleon, then became the Administrator of the district of
Nice. In 1795, he resigned this post in order to pursue scientific research
with his brother Claude.
The brothers invented, built
and developed what was probably the world's first internal combustion
engine. This was installed on a boat that ran on the river
They patented the engine in 1807.
In 1818, Niépce also took an interest in the bicycle. He
built himself a model and called it the
vélocipède (fast foot).
Incidentally, one of the
lectures given to
Edinburgh Photographic Society about fifty years later was titled:
"The Velocipede as an Adjunct to Landscape
Early Photographic Experiments
with 'heliographic engraving' (photographic etching) making his first
print in1822. The earliest of his prints to survive dates from
1825. It is a copy of a C17 Flemish engraving. The image is
ink on paper, made from a metal plate on which the image was created by
The earliest surviving photograph
of a scene from nature is his
"View from the window at Le Gras",
an 8-hour exposure in a camera
obscura, dating from 1826.
After experimenting with silver chloride, Niépce decided to use pewter
coated with bitumen disolved in lavender oil for this exposure.
Following the exposure, the remaining unexposed bitumen was washed off
with lavender oil.
Niépce continued experimenting
to improve his process, corroborating with
Daguerre from 1829.
Following Niépce's death in 1833, Daguerre went on to discover a quite
different process, using a copper sheet coated with silver then silver
halide and sensitised with iodine, exposed then developed in mercury
He named it the
Daguerreotype and sold it to the French Government in 1839. The
French Government paid Daguerre a pension of 6,000 Franks pa, and also
paid 4,000 Franks pa to the estate of Niépce in recognition of his work.
The details above have
been taken from the
page for Thomas Wedgwood