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News Release — September 3, 2003

Ransom Center and Getty Conservation Institute Host Symposium on the First Photograph and Beginnings of Photography

The University of Texas at Austin's Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center and the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) will host an international symposium from Nov. 20-23 on the First Photograph, "View From the Window at le Gras," the work of its creator, Frenchman Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, and the beginnings of photography.

International photography historians, conservators and curators will meet at the Ransom Center to take part in "At First Light: Niépce and the Dawn of Photography." The symposium will explore recent advancements in scientific, art historical and conservation research relating to the famed First Photograph and the beginnings of photography. Presentations will reveal as yet unpublished results from the first in-depth scientific examination of the First Photograph.

A number of new research initiatives and ongoing research projects related to the First Photograph and the work of Niépce will be considered at the symposium as well. Participants will have the opportunity to discuss issues related to early photography, including research in Heliography and related photographic processes.

"The Ransom Center and the Getty Conservation Institute's recent partnership concerning the conservation and scientific analysis of the First Photograph led to our desire to co-host a symposium and invite photography experts from the United States and Europe to discuss research, conservation and the history of early photography," said David Coleman, associate curator of photography at the Ransom Center.

"The Getty Conservation Institute's work with the Ransom Center, focusing on the First Photograph of Nicéphore Niépce, is one segment of a larger project in which the GCI collaborates with a number of partners," said Dusan Stulik, senior scientist at the GCI. "The broader project focuses on the development of scientific methodologies for the identification of photographic processes, including heliography -- the process used by Niépce to create the First Photograph."

Attendance to the symposium is limited and registrations will be handled on a first-come basis. Registration forms are available online.

The First Photograph is on permanent display in the lobby of the Ransom Center. Produced in 1826, the first photograph is an 8" x 6.5" heliograph that depicts a view outside the window of Niépce's estate in Gras, near Chalon-sur-Sâone.

The image, on a pewter plate sensitized with an asphalt derivative, specifically bitumen of Judea, took at least eight hours of exposure to produce. The plate is not only the first of its kind. It is also unique. No other original copies of the work could have been produced by Niépce.

Housed in its original frame and sealed within an atmosphere of inert gas in an airtight steel and Plexiglas storage frame, the photograph must be viewed under controlled lighting in order for its image to be visible. Details in the original image are faint, due not to fading, but to Niépce's underexposure of the original plate.

The Ransom Center acquired the image in 1963 as part of the Gernsheim Collection, a major photo historical archive. Today the strength of the Ransom Center's photography collection is in its documentation of the history and evolution of the medium. Photography holdings amount to more than 5 million prints and negatives, supplemented by manuscripts, archives and memorabilia of significant photographers of the past two centuries.

As an international leader in conservation and preservation of the visual arts, the Getty Conservation Institute lends its expertise to the symposium as a co-sponsor of the event. The GCI serves the conservation community through scientific research; education and training; field projects and the dissemination of the results of both its work and the work of others in the field. The GCI is known for addressing unanswered questions and promoting the highest possible standards of conservation practice. More information about the GCI is available online.

Located on The University of Texas at Austin campus, the Ransom Center houses one of the world's finest cultural archives, specifically 36 million manuscripts, five million photographs, one million books and more than 100,000 works of art and design.

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