Jul 22, 2012

Niepce & the Vue du Gras

"Le point de vue du Gras" is coming to Europe again! Yep, so I don't have to go to Austin, Texas, to see the world's first (surviving) photograph in real live. The famous Niepce picture, that he took from a window on the first floor of his house way back in 1826, is part of an exhibition in Mannheim, Germany. It can be seen in one of the Reiss-Engelhorn Museums from September 9, 2012 until January 6, 2013.

Unretouched and uncropped version of the Vue du Gras photo, plate size 16.2 x 20.2 cm.
Helmut Gernsheim rediscovered the Niepce photo in 1952, after it had been lost since 1898. To celebrate the 100th birthday of Helmut Gernsheim, 250 milestones of photography will be exhibited in Mannheim in the  Forum Internationale Photographie on the 4th floor of the Museum Zeughaus. The Museum Zeughaus is one of the Reiss-Engelhorn-Museums in Mannheim and is located in the C5 quarter. Read more about the Geburtsstunde der Fotografie on the site of the Reiss-Engelhorn Museums.

This photograph was made with a sliding box camera that is still kept at the Musée Nicéphore Niépce in Chalon sur Saône. 

On the internet and in the standard literature there is not much to be found about this camera, although it is an interesting apparatus. This "Chambre de la Découverte" as it is called is about 30.5 cm wide and 31.5 cm high. It consists of two boxes. The front box holds the lens. The top half of the front panel can be taken out, allowing a single lens to be mounted in a groove in the front panel.

The back half is really the most interesting. It holds a frame that can be rotated around a horizontal axis. On this frame a second frame is mounted, that can be moved up and down. This sounds like the first tilt and shift movement in a camera, but I do not know if the mechanism was meant for this. The sliding movement could just be meant to accommodate several plate sizes.

Here are two pics from a film in which a reproduction of the camera is shown. In both the mechanism of the sliding and rotating frame is visible. In the second photo the frame is tilted.

As far as I know the sliding frame did hold the light sensitive plate. The plate rested against the larger tilting frame. The window in this frame is slightly less wide that the opening in the sliding part. You can see the effect of this construction in the original (uncropped) Vue du Gras photo. There is a no-image border to the left, right and bottom of the plate, but the image extends to the top of the plate. This is in accordance with the frame construction, where the top part of the scene is not blocked by the frame mechanism. Remember that the image is up side down in the camera.

So far so good. I hope one day to visit the museum and see the camera in real life. For now I have to do with the 1/6 scale model I made of it (height is 5 cm). It was an interesting undertaking, in which I had to find as much information about the camera as I could and study all the details. This is a great way to learn a lot. I got no help from the museum (thank you very much!), so I had to guesstimate the size of some parts, but I think the model is quite accurate.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great blog for camera collectors. Thank you for posting it. I especially like your commentary on recent eBay auction results. Keep up the great work!

    -Steve in Chicago