Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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A Closer Look

Housing for the First Photograph at the Harry Ransom Center.

Housing for the First Photograph at the Harry Ransom Center, which replicates the backside of the framed photograph.
© Thomas McConnell Photography 2004.

Viewing the original heliograph is an experience as unique as the object itself. The First Photograph is the result of a one-of-a-kind, permanent, positive-image process. The process did not provide for a transparent negative or for multiple printings on paper, as later photographic processes did. Because Niépce could produce only a singular photograph with any exposure he made, the object on view is the unique original; the creator could not make duplicates of it.

The chemical and physical characteristics of the heliographic process and the reflective nature of the pewter plate make the First Photograph difficult to view. Thus, a special enclosure has been constructed to create an environment that provides optimal lighting and positioning for viewing the plate. It is suggested that visitors view the plate at an angle. (Viewing from the back corners of the display case allow you to see the image most clearly.)

INTERACTIVE: Highlighting the Elements