Founded in 1854, recognized as being of public utility in 1892, the French Photography Society (SFP) is the oldest still active photography society and one of the largest private collections of historical photographs in Europe. Bringing together objects, images, books, periodicals and handwritten documents, the collection, now classified as a historical monument, was built up according to the activities of its members: technical, theoretical or visual experiments. Indeed, if operators often patented their innovations, they more regularly formalized their discoveries by a public presentation to the SFP followed by publication in its Bulletin and donations of proofs or objects.
This is how the SFP keeps the first photolithography of Alphonse Poitevin, the experiments with color photographs by Ducos du Hauron and his early research on anaglyphs or the first autochromes tests of the Lumière brothers.
In addition to the “first times” of techniques (the development of a process or an apparatus), there are the “first times” of uses (applications), which include numerous attempts at instantaneous photography, the first images of the earth. view from the sky – aerostatic photography – by Paul Nadar or the successful attempts to transmit images at a distance by the belinograph.
The very idea of preserving photographic innovations of all kinds for the future has been at the heart of SFP’s missions since its inception. Also, today there are many practices and uses of the image that have resulted from the many trial and error which the collection retains the memory and the hesitations. But the first times are also sometimes failures and several samples which are illegible today have not withstood the vagaries of time and of their times.
Beyond the socio-historical interest of these images, it is also to an aesthetic reading of “the photographic experimental” that these incunabula of photography invite us today. Offered on all kinds of media, manipulated and bearing the traces of these manipulations, annotated on the front and back, reproduced in several forms, these images have nourished and continue to nourish the photographic imaginaries of which they form a precious archeology.