The First Photograph

"We have learned nothing" 
Picasso, after seeing the 30,000 year old cave paintings at Lascaux, France

The earliest images found were made over 30,000 years ago. We have continued to make images and they have influenced the lives of the people who saw them. The artist David Hockney has said that visual control equals power. The people who have power control images – and the people who control images have power. Look at any civilisation up until our own time of mass media.

One Summers day in 1826 Nicephore (Joseph) Niepce created the image above. This Grainy image is thought to be the first permanent photograph and it had an exposure of over eight hours. It is too simple to say Niepce invented photography because the photographic process has undergone so many significant modifications since then (most famously Fox Talbot and Daguerre1839).

The invention of a device that could allow anybody to record the world in perfect detail would revolutionize how we see ourselves, how we communicate and how we make art. Without Photography Modern art, film and the internet would not exist – or at least not as we know them.

Another one of Niepce’s earliest images was of a table – a traditional still life. It is a time honoured theme in Art that would still be revisited by future artists. During the 18th century Chardin produced beautiful painted still lives of simple Kitchen Utensils. There is great poetry in Chardin’s ability to bring such importance to such humble things. Niepce was simply continuing a long tradition – what else would you do with a camera other than make images in the tradition of Painting?

Niepce’s image of the roofs outside his window seems to break away from the traditions of painting and point to something else. The image could be compared to a landscape painting but a painting had never been done of just roofs. There are harsh angles, strong contrast and an abstract nature to image that seems ‘Modern’ to my eye. It reminds me of a Supremacist painting by Malevich.

With this first image there was a new way of seeing that would revolutionize the arts.

'We must expect great innovations to transform the entire technique of the arts, thereby affecting artistic invention itself and perhaps even bringing about an amazing change in our very notion of art.'
Paul Valery 'The Conquest of Ubiquity' 1928