The First Photography Books

The invention of photography revolutionized the world of images

By Nicéphore Niépce museum

Histoire de la photographie Histoire de la photographieNicéphore Niépce museum

The publication of photographic images in books is especially tricky. The first photographs are hard to reproduce. If the invention of Nicéphore Niépce holds the promise of multiplicity and diffusion, several decades will be necessary to master the impression techniques that will allow the rise of photography books.

La Sainte Famille / Le retour d'Egypte (1826/1827) by Joseph Nicéphore NIÉPCENicéphore Niépce museum

Duplicating images

From 1816, Nicéphore Niépce, the inventor of photography, focused on two distinct objectives: true-to-life 'views' and the reproduction of engravings (prints) by the action of light. A pioneer in the use of lithography, Nicéphore Niépce very quickly turned to the possibility of duplicating images using a light-sensitive medium: photoengraving.

Portrait du Cardinal d'Amboise (1826) by AnonymeNicéphore Niépce museum

One of his first achievements was his successful attempt to duplicate an engraving of the Cardinal d'Amboise.

Portrait du Cardinal d'Amboise (1826) by Joseph Nicéphore NIÉPCENicéphore Niépce museum

Thanks to light-sensitive substances, he succeeded in creating a printing matrix on a pewter plate, which allowed several prints to be made from an existing image.

Portrait du Cardinal d'Amboise (1827) by François Auguste LEMAITRENicéphore Niépce museum

Nicéphore Niépce based the foundations for photoengraving on printing methods.

Les Excursions daguerriennes GRECE / LES PROPYLEES A ATHENES. (1841) by Noël-Marie-Paymal LereboursNicéphore Niépce museum

Daguerrian excursions

The first photographs, daguerreotypes, were one-of-a-kind and on metal. They reflected light making them difficult to reproduce in illustrated works. From the invention of this process in 1839, the question arose of how to reproduce this new type of image to circulate them to as many people as possible. The challenge was taken up by Noel-Marie Paymal-Lerebours with the 'Excursions Daguerriennes.'

Les Excursions daguerriennes FRANCE / PORTAIL NOTRE DAME DE PARIS. (1841) by Noël-Marie-Paymal LereboursNicéphore Niépce museum

After collaborating with Nicéphore Niépce, Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre continued their work following the death of the former in 1833. It resulted in the so-called daguerreotype process, 'revealed' to the world by Daguerre and Arago in 1839.

Les Excursions daguerriennes EGYPTE / PYRAMIDE DE KEOPS. (1841) by Noël-Marie-Paymal LereboursNicéphore Niépce museum

The daguerreotype was a real commercial success. It was an instant, positive image. However, it was a unique photograph, and very difficult to duplicate.

Les Excursions daguerriennes ESPAGNE / ALHAMBRA (1841) by Noël-Marie-Paymal LereboursNicéphore Niépce museum

In the autumn of 1839, Noel-Marie Paymal-Lerebours commissioned several daguerreotypists to take picturesque shots of eastern and southern Mediterranean countries and some European towns, intending to publish them.

Les Excursions daguerriennes NUBIE / TEMPLE HYPTHERE DANS L'ILE DE PHILAE. (1841) by Noël-Marie-Paymal LereboursNicéphore Niépce museum

The difficulty duplicating the daguerreotype made a printed circulation of these photographs difficult. The help of both a designer who could copy and reinterpret the photograph and an engraver were required.

Les Excursions daguerriennes RUSSIE / VUE DU KREMLIN A MOSCOU. (1841) by Noël-Marie-Paymal LereboursNicéphore Niépce museum

Of the 1200 shots taken, 114 were used to produce lithographs from the daguerreotypes, and were then published by Lerebours in his 'Excursions Daguerriennes' released in two editions between 1840 and 1843.

1 (1844) by William Henry Fox TALBOTNicéphore Niépce museum

The pencil of nature: the first photographic book (1844)

William Fox Talbot invented a different photographic process, the calotype. Thanks to the calotype, he could produce multiple copies of prints. To make a name for his process, Talbot published a book, The Pencil of Nature, in which he glued the prints directly into the book.

8 (1844) by William Henry Fox TALBOTNicéphore Niépce museum

Niépce and Daguerre were not the only ones to reproduce reality using photosensitive products. The English Talbot developed a completely different process, based on the same principles.

5 (1844) by William Henry Fox TALBOTNicéphore Niépce museum

Rather than producing singular, positive images on metal, Talbot invented the calotype in 1841, a negative photograph on paper.

18 (1844) by William Henry Fox TALBOTNicéphore Niépce museum

The calotype could be used as a matrix to make as many positive prints as desired.

2 (1844) by William Henry Fox TALBOTNicéphore Niépce museum

To make a name for his invention, Talbot published a manifesto, illustrated with positive photographs pasted in by hand, The Pencil of Nature.

14 (1844) by William Henry Fox TALBOTNicéphore Niépce museum

He described in six instalments published between 1844 and 1846 the revolution brought about by photography in the arts, sciences, and in how knowledge was circulated.

22 (1844) by William Henry Fox TALBOTNicéphore Niépce museum

With this publication, Talbot was the first to combine text with photographic images in the form of a book. He was also the first to introduce the notion of an act of creation, and so the notion of an author, in the art of photography.

Inscriptions antiques de Chalon-sur-Saône et de Mâcon (1856) by Edouard LoydreauNicéphore Niépce museum

The photographic printing of Blanquart-Evrard

In 1851, Louis Désiré Blanquart-Evrard succeeded in industrializing, standardizing and improving Talbot's theories, in order to produce books illustrated with photographs. He is nicknamed the "Gutenberg" of photography.

Statues, cathédrale de Chartres (1854) by Charles MARVILLENicéphore Niépce museum

In 1852, the publication of the album 'Egypte, Nubie, Palestine et Syrie" by Maxime du Camp, marked the start of luxury photographic editions. Blanquart-Evrard published many other works such as the 'Keepsake Photographique' (1851-1855) or the 'Album Photographique d'Archéologie Religieuse' by Hippolyte Malègue in 1857.

Voyage d'exploration à la Mer Morte, à Pétra et sur la rive gauche du Jourdain par M. le Duc de LUYNES KARAK. / VUE INTERIEURE DE L'EXTREMITE SUD DE LA FORTERESSE (1871/1875) by Eugène CICERINicéphore Niépce museum

Research on photomechanical processes

An example of the exploratory voyage to the Dead Sea in Petra and to the Left Bank in Jordan, by the Duke of Luynes.

Voyage d'exploration à la Mer Morte, à Pétra et sur la rive gauche du Jourdain par M. le Duc de LUYNES Voyage d'exploration à la Mer Morte, à Pétra et sur la rive gauche du Jourdain par M. le Duc de LUYNES (1871/1875) by Duc de LUYNESNicéphore Niépce museum

The 1850-1860s research into photomechanical reproduction processes continued intensely.

Enlightened art lover, the Duke of Luynes was interested in archeology and chemistry, and a photographer himself.

Voyage d'exploration à la Mer Morte, à Pétra et sur la rive gauche du Jourdain par M. le Duc de LUYNES REDUCTION DES CARTES / DU / COURS INFERIEUR DU JOURDAIN / DE LA MER MORTE, DU WADY ARABAH / ET DU WADY EL JEIB (1871/1875) by ERHARDNicéphore Niépce museum

The Duke of Luynes willingly put his immense fortune to the service of the arts and the sciences. He launched a competition in 1856 "to stimulate the zeal of the people who dedicated themselves to this important research."

Voyage d'exploration à la Mer Morte, à Pétra et sur la rive gauche du Jourdain par M. le Duc de LUYNES JERUSALEM / LE SAINT SEPULCRE (1871/1875) by Duc de LUYNESNicéphore Niépce museum

A sum of 8000 francs was allocated for the inventor of the best photomechanical reproduction process.

Voyage d'exploration à la Mer Morte, à Pétra et sur la rive gauche du Jourdain par M. le Duc de LUYNES AIN-JIDY / POMMIER OU LIMON DE SODOME (1871/1875) by Duc de LUYNESNicéphore Niépce museum

A sum of 2000 francs for the one who made the most progress in silver photographic prints, or in fixing them permanently.

Voyage d'exploration à la Mer Morte, à Pétra et sur la rive gauche du Jourdain par M. le Duc de LUYNES DJEBEL - MOUSA / SANCTUAIRE RUINE SITUE AU SOMMET (1871/1875) by Duc de LUYNESNicéphore Niépce museum

It took the jury 10 years to decide to reward in 1867 a technique that has been approved since 1855 (Poitevin's process of photolithography).

Voyage au Soudan Oriental Voyage au Soudan Oriental (1847/1853) by Pierre TrémauxNicéphore Niépce museum

Pierre Trémaux and the voyage to Sudan

autoportraitNicéphore Niépce museum

Pierre Trémaux (1818-1895) was an architect, orientalist, scientist, and photographer. Coming second in the 1845 'Priz de Rome' in architecture, he made a number of trips in 1847-1848 then in 1853-1854, exploring several North African countries.

Voyages au Soudan Oriental et dans l'Afrique Septentrionale Voyages au Soudan Oriental et dans l'Afrique Septentrionale (1847/1854) by Pierre TrémauxNicéphore Niépce museum

During his travels, Trémaux conducted photographic campaigns that most notably gave rise to the publication of 'Voyage au Soudan Oriental', a book accompanied by an atlas.

Voyages au Soudan Oriental et dans l'Afrique Septentrionale Vue pittoresque à Tunis (1847/1854) by Pierre TrémauxNicéphore Niépce museum

In this atlas, Trémaux published many maps and in particular, lithographs made from photographs.

Voyages au Soudan Oriental et dans l'Afrique Septentrionale Fille du Dar-Four (1847/1854) by Pierre TrémauxNicéphore Niépce museum

Several double pages of the atlas presented the original prints on salty paper next to the engravings copied from them. The publication ran from 1852 to 1868.

This work cemented the appearance of photography in books, in all its forms: it brought together lithographic interpretations, original prints stuck in by hand, and photo-lithographs.

Voyage au Soudan Oriental (1847/1853) by Pierre TrémauxNicéphore Niépce museum

The other remarkable aspect of this work was its ethnological approach and its early interest for the populations of the countries traveled through.

Voyage au Soudan Oriental (1847/1853) by Pierre TrémauxNicéphore Niépce museum

The full ambition of the original project was never achieved (355 photographs in 3 editions). Trémaux began by publishing prints on albumen paper and traditional lithographs.

Voyage au Soudan Oriental (1847/1853) by Pierre TrémauxNicéphore Niépce museum

The poor quality of the prints and their instability over time forced him to replace them with photo-lithographs, which he resent to subscribers.

Voyage au Soudan Oriental (1847/1853) by Pierre TrémauxNicéphore Niépce museum

Some of the photo-lithographs were reinterpreted (notably by addition of people).

Art et Médecine / A Paris (1931-10) by André KerteszNicéphore Niépce museum

The photographic boom

Original prints continued to be stuck by hand into works, often published in instalments, until the development of half-tone engraving in around 1880, then rotary heliography in 1904.

These methods allowed images and text to be printed at the same time.

Le Miroir n°109 Le Miroir n°109 (1915-12-26)Nicéphore Niépce museum

Photography was used in all fields: literary, artistic, scientific, ethnological, judicial, social, military, political, industrial, commercial… and so became the ideal tool for the propagation of ideas and lifestyles.

Comoedia Illustré n° 12 Comoedia Illustré n° 12 (1913-03-20)Nicéphore Niépce museum

Mastery of these new methods took time and it was only in the mid-1920s that the press really took hold of these new techniques.

VU n°104 VU n°104 (1930-03-12)Nicéphore Niépce museum

Launched by Lucien Vogel in 1928, the magazine VU revolutionized the way photography was presented and circulated to as many people as possible.

VU n°104 VU n°104 (1930-03-12)Nicéphore Niépce museum

Heliography made it possible to combine photographs and text in a more fluid and dynamic way, at the discretion of the artistic director.

VU n°445 VU n°445 (1936-09-23)Nicéphore Niépce museum

Complementary text and images made sense and photography was no longer used only to illustrate.

VU n°445 VU n°445 (1936-09-23)Nicéphore Niépce museum

It was in VU that photo reporting was invented: photographers were entrusted to cover certain subjects in order to meet editorial needs. The text complemented or expanded on the point of view developed by the photographs.

Art et Médecine (1939-03) by Roger SchallNicéphore Niépce museum

The new options for page layout allowed for a more modern ease of reading.

Credits: Story

Michel Frizot, Cédric de Veigy

Credits: All media
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