Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Summer 2002 Newsletter

The World's First Photo

The World's First Photo Gets First Class Treatment


Ransom Center Photography Curator Roy
Flukinger gets the makeup treatment for an
appearance on NBC's TODAY Show by Producer
Michelle Reinhardt. March 2002.
Photo by Charles Bogel.


Dr. Shin Maekawa, Senior Scientist, GCI (Getty
Conservation Institute) examining the back of
The First Photograph in its current exhibit case.


Joseph Nicephore Niepce (1765­1833). View
from the Window at Le Gras
, c. 1826. Heliograph.
Ransom Center Photography Collection.


Dusan Stulik, Barbara Brown, Shin Maekawa,
and Roy Flukinger. January 2002.
Photos by Pete Smith.

An exciting collaboration is underway between the Ransom Center and the Getty Conservation Institute to analyze and better preserve the World's First Photograph. In January, Senior Scientists Dr. Dusan Stulik and Dr. Shin Maekawa from the Getty came to Texas to meet with Ransom Center staff to discuss and finalize plans for the joint project on Joseph Nicéphore Niépce's heliograph, View from the Window at Gras (the World's First Photograph). The GCI scientists, with Roy Flukinger, Senior Curator of Photography and Film, and Barbara Brown, Photograph Conservator, examined the First Photograph and its sealed case at the Treasures exhibition at the LBJ Library and Museum. This was particularly important for Dr. Maekawa, who, with Dr. Stulik, will be designing and helping to construct the new, oxygen-free case for the First Photograph.

The First Photograph will be couriered by Barbara Brown to the Getty Conservation Institute in June, where they will remain for two weeks. The GCI scientists will conduct non-invasive, analytical tests to determine the heliograph's chemical composition and to look for oxidation or other deterioration that could threaten the image. The information gained on the condition of the heliograph will contribute to the Getty's design and construction of the new airtight case for the object. Conservators at the Getty will repair the gilt frame while the new case is being constructed. The heliograph will be reinstalled in its frame, and into the new case, in early 2003—in time for the opening of the Ransom Center's new galleries—where it will be permanently on display.

Barbara Brown
Photograph Conservator

Maximum Exposure

The World's First Photograph has garnered a lot of attention lately. Andrew Bridges wrote an Associated Press article that was released on March 13 titled "Experts Try to Solve Mystery of Oldest Photo." The article was picked up by many media outlets: CNN.com; over sixty newspapers and their Web sites around the world, including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Sun Media newspapers of Canada, a piece was written by Michael Barnes for the Austin American-Statesman, the Daily Texan; and even a radio station in Romania covered it! Brief spots mentioning the First Photograph aired on CNN, CBS, and NBC news programs that same day.

The following morning, March 14, Senior Photography Curator Roy Flukinger was featured with the Niepce heliograph at the LBJ Library and Museum, in an interview on NBC's TODAY show. More national coverage followed in an interview aired on National Public Radio on April 7, 2002, in which NPR host Jacki Lyden interviewed Dr. Dusan Stulik, Senior Scientist at the Getty Conservation Institute.

Stay tuned to the Ransom Center Web site to watch for upcoming stories (and photos) as the First Photograph travels to the Getty Conservation Institute in California this summer, is fitted with its new case, and is installed in its permanent location in the new Ransom Center lobby in the spring of 2003.  


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