The Getty and the Ransom Center Collaborate on Preserving the World's First Photograph
On the morning of June 13, 2002, the carefully packed and crated World's First Photograph -- Joseph Nicéphore Niépce's heliograph, View from the Window at le Gras -- was loaded into the climate-controlled trailer of AnR Transport art shipping company's eighteen-wheeler for the long road trip to the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) in Los Angeles. I rode along in the cab of the truck as the courier accompanying the heliograph during its travel and the two weeks of examination and analysis.
I worked with GCI Senior Scientist Dr. Dusan Stulik and other Getty scientists and staff to examine the heliograph and its components. Samples inside its protective case were analyzed to determine the composition of the atmosphere. The results of this analysis revealed that the atmosphere was the same as the ambient environment -- confirming suspicions that the seal on the current case was not functioning as well as. This will not be a problem with the new, oxygen-free, protective case being constructed by GCI for the heliograph, Drs. Stulik and Maekawa have assured us. Other non-invasive, analytical tests were conducted. These conclusively confirmed that the metal is pewter (an alloy of tin plus some lead, with in this instance, traces of iron, copper and nickel). Conservators at the Getty will repair the gilt wood frame while the new protective case is being constructed.
Roy Flukinger, Ransom Center Senior Curator of Photography and Film, joined the team at the Getty during the last week of June, and delivered a very well-received lecture titled, "Gernsheim at Texas: The Collection at the Academy" on the afternoon of June 25, which was followed by a reception in the Palm Court on the Getty grounds. Earlier that day, several experts in photography, photographic conservation, and the history of photography -- including the Curator of the Musée Nicéphore Niépce, François Cheval; French photo-historian Michel Frizot; Head of Research at the Centre National de la Recherch Scientifique, Paris, Jean-Louis Marignier; Director of the Image Permanence Institute (IPI), James Reilly, and the Director of the CRCDG (Centre de Recherches sur la Conservation des Documents Graphiques), Bertrand Lavédrine -- met with us to view and examine the heliograph while out of its protective case.
The two weeks were an extremely busy and productive time, yet our hosts made sure we enjoyed ourselves too, taking us on a tour of wineries in the Santa Ynez Valley.