Nicéphore Niépce Biography - Heliography Inventor

Nicéphore Niépce (born Joseph Niépce 1765 - 1833) was an inventor from France. He is considered inventor of photography although he had other inventions.

Niépce was born on 7th March 1765 in Chalon-sur-Saône, Saône-et-Loire in France. His father, Claude Niépce, was wealthy lawyer there and his mother was Claudine Josephe Barault. Niépce had two brothers and a sister. He studied at Oratorian College in Angers where he changed his name from Joseph to Nicéphore in honor of Saint Nicephorus the ninth-century Patriarch of Constantinople. Nicéphore served as a staff officer in the French army in the time of Napoleon and after that as administrator of Nice. In 1795 he decided to do scientific research with his brother Claude and he resigned.

Picture Of Nicephore Niepce

We don’t know when he precisely started experimenting with photography but we know that he was inspired by his interest in the new art of lithography and by camera obscura. In 1816, he used camera obscura and paper coated with silver chloride to capture small images. They were in negative and were not fixed so they would turn completely black when exposed to the light. Experimenting with other substances, he found Bitumen of Judea - asphalt that can be found in nature and that artists used to make etchings. This bitumen had a characteristic to become less soluble after it had been left exposed to light. He dissolved bitumen in lavender oil and covered a metal plate with it. When it is dried, plate was covered with paper that had a drawing on it and left on sun like that. After some time, unshielded bitumen would harden while the shielded was still soft and could be removed with solvent. Bare parts of plate could then be etched with acid and plate used for printing. Niépce called this method heliography, meaning "sun drawing". First images that he made with this method were made in 1822 but they didn’t survive to this day. In 1825 he made copies of a 17th-century engraving of a man with a horse that survived. They represent the oldest photocopies. In 1824, Niépce used, for the first time, bitumen plates in camera obscura to take a picture. This picture of the view from a window in his house didn’t survive but he made another like it in 1826 or 27 and that photography is considered the oldest surviving photography. It was considered lost in early 20th century, but photographic historian Helmut Gernsheim found it in 1952. Time of exposure was at first thought to be 8 to 9 hours but some researchers that used the same technique think that a picture like that that used the same materials needs severel days of exposure to produce the same results.

At the same time, Louis Daguerre also experimented with photography so, in 1829, Niépce entered into a partnership with him. They together improved the method and their partnership lasted until Niépce died in 1833. Daguerre continued experimenting and developed his process that he called "daguerréotype". He managed to persuade French Government to purchase daguerréotype process and reward Daguerre (with 6,000 Francs a year) and Nicéphore’s son Isidore (4,000 Francs a year) with lifelong pensions. Isidore wasn’t too happy with this because he thought that Daguerre was reaping all the benefits of his father's work. Later historians rectified this error and reclaimed Niépce from relative obscurity.

Picture Of View From The Window At Le Gras Joseph Nicephore Niepce

Nicéphore Niépce didn’t work only on photography. Him and his brother invented “Pyréolophore” - probably the world's first internal combustion engine; improved variant of vélocipède - predecessor of bicycle; and improved variant of Marly machine whose purpose was to delivered water to the Palace of Versailles from the Seine river.