In the early 1800s, French inventor Nicéphore Niépce experimented with chemically treated metal plates, which he placed on the back of the camera obscura’s box-projected surface, ultimately recording the oldest permanent image: View from the window at Le Gras (1826-1827). Taken from a window overlooking the French countryside—and across some grainy rooftops—the analog image required several days of exposure, a naturally occurring asphalt known as Bitumen of Judea (which can be traced back to ancient Egypt), lavender oil, and a pewter plate.
The rarity and cost of the chemicals—and the incredibly long exposure time required—rendered Niépce’s photography technique impractical. The Royal Society, a scientific academy that supports technological innovation, rejected Niépce’s pewter plate on the grounds that they refused to publicize discoveries that involved undisclosed secrets (and Niépce kept his methods under wraps). By the end of the 19th century, his technique had fallen into obscurity. In 1952, his work was rediscovered and View from the window at Le Gras was authenticated as the first photograph. Although Niépce’s legacy only crystallized some 60 years ago, his work would influence his collaborator Louis Daguerre’s time-efficient photographic method known as the daguerreotype.
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