World’s First Photos

When we take a look at the state of photography today, such as the advances of digital camera, artful image manipulation by PhotoShop, and the pervasiveness of photographic images in our lives, it is easy to forget that the first photograph was taken just 185 years ago. Let take journey back in time to know the wonderful world of early photography.

World’s First Photograph: The grainy picture is the world’s first photograph called “View from the Window at Le Gras” (circa 1826), taken and developed by French photographer pioneer Joseph Nicéphore Niépce. He called this process “heliography” or sun drawing – it certainly was a long process: the exposure time was about 8 hours. 

World’s First Human Photo: In 1839, Robert Cornelius, a Dutch chemist who immigrated to Philadelphia, took a daguerreotype portrait of himself outside of his family’s store and made history: he made the world’s first human photograph. 

World’s First Largest Photo: In 1900, George R. Lawrence built this mammoth 900 lb. camera, then the world’s largest, for $5,000 (enough to purchase a large house at that time!) It took 15 men to move and operate the gigantic camera.The photographer was commissioned by the Chicago & Alton Railway to make the largest photograph (the plate was 8 x 4.5 ft in size!) of its train for the company’s pamphlet “The Largest Photograph in the World of the Handsomest Train in the World.”

World’s First Photomontage:In 1858, Henry Peach Robinson made the world’s first photomontage by combining multiple negatives to form a single image. Robinson’s first and most famous composite photo, called “Fading Away”, was a composition of five negatives. It depicted a girl dying of consumption (or tuberculosis), and quite controversial as some objected to the morbid subject of the photo.

World’s First Color Photo: The oldest known color photograph was taken by Louis Ducos du Hauron in 1872. The photo is of a view of Angouleme in Southern France.

World’s First Aerial Photo:The first aerial photo was taken by Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, better known as Nadar [wiki], in 1858, using a tethered balloon over the Bievre Valley, France.

World’s First Underwater Photo:The first underwater camera system was developed by French scientist Louis Boutan in 1893.The image on the left was the world’s first underwater photography – the model was so excited that he held the identification plate upside down.  

World’s First Largest Group Photo: In 1918, photographers Arthur S. Mole and John D. Thomas took a photograph of 30,000 military officers and men at Camp Custer, Michigan. A special 70-foot tower was built for this purpose. Mole and Thomas actually specialized in taking these types of photographs – they took a total of 10 photos where thousands of soldiers were posed to form giant, living, symbols of the USA, including a portrait of Woodrow Wilson, the Liberty Bell, the Statue of Liberty, the Marine Corps emblem, and more.

World’s Most Expensive Photo: Edward Steichen’s photo of a pond in Long Island, New York, in 1904 set the world record for most expensive photograph, sold for $2.9 million in February 2006.

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