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The History of the Photogravure
Niepce and Fizeau

AT ITS ORGIN, photography was intimately linked with printmaking. In 1829, ten years before Louis Daguerre announced the invention of photography, he formed a partnership with Joseph-Nicéphore Niépce, who, in turn, had been experimenting with light-sensitive materials since the 1810s. Their efforts were motivated by the desire to make stable fixed images directly from nature, or to make "etchings by light."

Joseph-Nicephore Niepce
Joseph-Nicéphore Niépce
As early as 1814, Niépce had begun experimenting with light-sensitive varnish used in the new art of lithography. His landmark success came 12 years later when he reproduced the engraved portrait of Cardinal d'Amboise from a lithographic plate. To do this, he first coated a pewter plate with Bitumen of Judea (asphaltum), which by its nature is light sensitive. Then he covered the sensitized plate with the original waxed engraving and placed it in sunlight, which hardened the bitumen under the light areas of the image. The plate was then washed with a solvent, which washed away the unexposed areas of the image, and etched in an acid bath. After etching all of the bitumen was removed and the plate was printed with the traditional intaglio method. That same year, Niepce also succeeded making the first camera image showing a view out the window of his house and relying on the same materials and techniques borrowed from etching - bitumen of Judea on a pewter plate.

Unfortunately Niépce's death in 1833 left Daguerre to pursue image making alone and, in 1840, he announced that he had developed the photographic process that bears his name. Daguerreotypes were magically precise mirror-like images produced on silver-plated copper. The new medium was quickly and enthusiastically embraced.

Building on Niépce's successes, in the early 1840s Hippolyte-Louis Fizeau modified the process. Fizeau's experimentation was motivated by the desire to make multiple copies of the recently announced daguerreotype, a one-of-a-kind photographic process. While Fizeau met with limited success, eventually his efforts were abandon as William Henry Fox Talbot's reproducible calotype paper photography became widely used. line


Isaac Briot
Isaac Briot. 1585 - 1670.
Le Cardinal d'Ambroise. 1633.
Original Etching.

Joseph-Nicephore Niepce
Nicéphore Niépce, 1765 - 1833.
Le Cardinal d'Ambroise. 1826.
First metal heliographic plate.

Joseph-Nicephore Niepce
Nicéphore Niépce, 1765 - 1833.
Le Cardinal d'Ambroise. 1826.
Print from metal heliograohic plate.