In October 2010, the National Media Museum (NMeM) in Bradford, England, and the Getty Conservation Institute coorganized a two-day conference focused on results from the first scientific investigation and historical and conservation research findings related to some of the earliest known photographs by pioneering photographer Joseph Nicéphore Niépce— photographs that he left in England during a visit in 1827.
The conference began with an introduction to the joint GCI-NMeM research project, Niépce in England, and its project team. GCI team members announced research findings that provide new evidence of the significance of Niépce's contribution to the development of photography, including the revelation of a previously undiscovered method of image making dating to the 1820s. NMeM team members presented results of the investigation into the optical capabilities of early camera obscuras available during the early nineteenth century. An independent fingerprint expert working on the project provided insight into the forensic investigation of fingerprints discovered by the NMeM-GCI project team on several Niépce plates. A specialist in nineteenth-century papers discussed findings from the analysis of blue paper material found on the back sides of several existing Niépce plates. Staff from the National Gallery in London contributed provenance information and dated the picture frames of several Niépce images. A member of the NMeM-GCI project team presented a vision of the future steps that should be taken during the conservation of the Niépce plates from the Royal Photographic Society Collection of Photographs-NMeM collection.
Scientific and technical presentations were counterbalanced by a series of historical and art-historical presentations that focused on the latest research on the provenance of Niépce's photographs, on his activities in England during his 1827 visit, and on the status of the Royal Society of London at the time of his visit.
Staff from the Harry Ransom Center (HRC) at the University of Texas at Austin discussed the work of researcher Helmut Gernsheim, whose perseverance was responsible for the rediscovery of Niépce's View from the Window at Le Gras (1826), arguably the world's first photograph. HRC-GCI investigation of the photograph was conducted in 2002, and GCI research resulted in a new, high-tech enclosure for the long-term protection and preservation of the first photograph while it is on a permanent display at the HRC.
A series of roundtable discussions provided opportunities for discussion of Niépce's work and historical and scientific research related to it. Discussions also delineated needs for future research before some parts of the early history of photography are rewritten, based on facts and discoveries presented during the conference.
For more information on the GCI's Research on the Conservation of Photographs project, visit the project website.