The Museum of Nicéphore Niépce – the creator of the first photograph

I believe I’ve seen more than once that Louis Daguerre is credited with having invented the photograph. However, I find this sentence from Wikipedia’s account of the History of Photography informative:

“In 1826, Nicéphore Niépce first managed to fix an image that was captured with a camera, but at least eight hours or even several days of exposure in the camera were required and the earliest results were very crude. Niépce’s associate Louis Daguerre went on to develop the daguerreotype process, the first publicly announced and commercially viable photographic process. The daguerreotype required only minutes of exposure in the camera, and produced clear, finely detailed results. The details were introduced to the world in 1839, a date generally accepted as the birth year of practical photography.”

So we may say there were two – one who created the first photographic print and one who made photography and photographs practical. And they knew each other and worked together, but Niepce died suddenly of a stroke in 1833.

That first-ever photograph was created by Niépce of the view from a second-floor bedroom window in his house – its fascinating history can be read here. And here is what it looked like; original plate (left) and colorized reoriented enhancement (right).

Nicéphore Niépce “View from the Window at La Gras,” 1826.

In passing, you may note how its appearance reminds you of today’s tintype app and various apps of Hipstamatic. Of course, it’s far from the same thing, but the aesthetics of very old photographic images seems never to seize to attract us.

I am not going into more history or chemical-technical processes here. The main point is that my wife, Christina and I, have recently visited Le Musée la Photographie Nicéphore Niépce in the picturesque historic French town of Chalon sur Saône.

Niépce’s pathbreaking work – that he did not benefit from himself due to his early death – is described well by the museum on its homepage.

And it was such a fine experience; I recommend it warmly if you have an opportunity to visit that region. I mean, don’t do what I did, namely sleeping over for the first time in Chalon and driving south – only to find out later that I had missed that museum and, honestly, had never heard about Niépce.

The museum is beautifully situated right on the river.

Generously, there is no fee to enter the museum; the first very large hall – see above – takes you through the history of photography – various types of cameras, processes, films such as Polaroid and Kodak and various types of photography and how photography became a medium for many purposes such as fashion. Or, photography as invention, social, aesthetic/artistic, commercial and technical.

The rest of the museum – contains more about Niépce and his other inventions, videos etc. – and changing photo exhibitions by old as well as contemporary artists. You can easily spend several hours, and everything is so well arranged and attracts your curiosity. The only drawback is the typical French habit of providing explanations mostly in French – which is not a good idea since the museum certainly deserves to be visited by people from all over the world.

Here is one of the exceptions in the history department that summarises well the museum’s impressively broad idea, diverse aims, and huge collection of photographs:

Now let’s walk around…you may click on every photo to enlarge it. As I said, everything presented so well:

At the time of visiting, there were exhibitions from the collection organised with reference to French filmmaker and essayist George Perec and a very fine collection of countryside photos by Madeleine de Sinéty. She has been called the forgotten photographer, but there is more about her enigmatic, low-toned photography of ordinary life in the countryside here.

The museum shop carries a very fine selection of mostly historical photo books. However, I could not find an English edition of the big yellow one about Niépce and his amazing lifetime work (and his other inventions).

I recommend that you visit and browse the following homepages to learn more about the museum, the history of photography and about Niépce and Daguerre:

The museum on Chalon sur Saone

The huge collection of old photographic organised in themes and searchable.

Heliography – Niépce’s method used to create the view from the window.

The Niépce Archives

• Louis Daguerre – here and here

Hotel Saint Jean

If/When you go there and find that you need to sleep over in Chalon sur Saône, you just walk 300 meters south from the museum along the Saône and hit Hotel Saint Jean and its own homepage. Do not use, Expedia, and all the rest – which always come up on top of search engines and are meant to make a profit by preventing you from contacting the hotel directly.

What my wife and I did was to call directly; since I am not good at French, I asked whether the man who answered my call perhaps spoke English. In impeccable English, he said – “Indeed I do, but this will be more expensive for you…” The tone was set, so I asked him whether we could stay for free if we gave him a crash course in Swedish, but he wasn’t sure about that. Then – did they accept dogs? “Oh yes, not only dogs but all kinds of animals because, you see, no animal had ever written a bad evaluation of our hotel.” I immediately promised him that our dog, Mimi, would certainly also not write anything negative.

All was fixed by giving him my name, phone number and likely time of arrival.

I call that service, personality, culture and good-humoured social interaction built on trust and not on credit cards.

You’ll find a photo gallery on the hotel’s homepage and then get the flavour from my photos here. It’s a two-star hotel. The building is from the late 1880s and is in need of a thorough renovation. But the room was fine with a beautiful colour combination, and so was the ambience, not to mention the lovely French breakfast and the very reasonable price for it all.

We’ll stay nowhere else when next we pass lovely Chalon sur Saône.

Would love to read your views, ideas or suggestions here

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