Thoughts on Firsts

Google is our friend!

Google finds everything!

Google is the repository of humankind’s knowledge!

So when I want to find something, normally photography related, I use Google. What could I want to know this time… let’s see.

Ah yes:

Hey Google, what was the first photograph?

Google takes about a second and Google got the answer:

This is of course the original plate the photo was taken on, preserved at the Harry Ransom Center if the University of Texas, Austin. A better known version is this one:View_from_the_Window_at_Le_Gras,_Joseph_Nicéphore_Niépce
Cool, thanks Google!

This is a view from 1826 out of Nicéphore Nièpce’s upstairs window… nothing world shattering as a subject but it’s really TWO firsts! The first photograph ever taken and the first bulb exposure! It lasted for 8 hours.

What could I want to know next? Well, it’s obvious:

Hey Google, what was the first digital photograph?

Hmmm, Google is scratching his head…. comes up with this:firstdigitalphoto

‘Taken by Russell Kirsch in 1957, but… there’s a big BUT here!

No, Google, I say, this is not a proper photograph! It’s a scan of a film photograph so I don’t count that one. I want the first one out of a digital camera.

Google proposes this one:firstkodak

No again, Google, this is the first digital camera, built by Kodak’s Steve Sasson in 1975! But what did he do with it? Hey, there are no strap lugs!

In fact, Kodak would have done better to fire that guy or to lock him up as he finally brought about the fall of the mighty firm.

But please Google, I asked you to show me the first picture that came out of this monstrosity!

Google looks a bit lost here for once, shrugs and throws out this one:Early-Bayer-CFA-image

Yyyyyyesssss, but this is ONE OF THE FIRSTS with no date attached and no information that it was made with Sasson’s contraption. I wanted Nièpce’s digital equivalent! Is that so hard to find? I guess it is! Didn’t they even think to preserve it….???

Well, I must come to the conclusion that the first ever digital photograph, a ground breaking thing, does not exist any more. If ever you know otherwise please correct me.

Anyways, this exemplifies the fickle reality of digital files in our lives. We take more photos than EVER before in human history, we store them in our phones, on hard drives or online in various Facegrams and Instabooks and never look at them again, normally.

Is it the number of photographs that daunts us and prevents us from going through them from time to time? Might well be. Or is it the lack of empathy we have with digital files?

They get deleted, lost, thrown out with old computers. They linger online until some cloud service folds up and flies away…. they are not real!

They are convenient, that’s all!

Film is definitely not convenient, but unless your house burns down and your negatives are destroyed, they are there to stay. You can always make a new print of your negatives, you can enlarge them nearly as you like (try that with early 2 Megapixel camera outputs or the compressed stuff from Facebook!).

And when your house does burn down…. well, you scanned and backed up the negatives, didn’t you? 😉

Thanks for reading!


8 thoughts on “Thoughts on Firsts

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  1. Analog processes degrade over time. Emulsion is not forever. You may have something in the end but it would be not as it was in the beginning independent from your effort and knowledge.

    Preserving digital copy does not come for free or without special expertise (for example using file systems that detect and fix bitrot) but it is at least theoretically possible.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good points! Though I think the analog stuff, for ‘normal’ people will keep up longer. Hardly anyone makes correct backups or knows how to keep his files in good order over format, system and whatever changes. And there’s the bittot you speak about,


      1. Analog stuff allows more gradual degradation. But I looked up the slides I took about 10 year ago and now I am not sure if the they were slightly underexposed or have become faded over time (I learned that slides darken in the dark). This makes me uneasy and reminds that nothing can last forever (except properly maintained digital copy).

        Yes, I still have them and they were nice too look at, especially the 6×9 medium format ones but it nearly discouraged me to get into large format photography I have long time wanted but did not have resources for.

        I now learned that it makes sense to cold store the colour film because it would slow down emulsion degradation. This got me enthusiastic again and now I am waiting for my camera to arrive.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Large format? That haunts my mind also. Love the slow, deliberate approach. The limit that you have just 2, 4, 6 sheets of film in your holders snd that every shot has to be spot on as they cost a lot!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I’ll just say I have Kodachrome & Agfachrome slides both 35mm and 120’s that are over 20 years old. They are stored in a dry cabinet in the dark inside slide cases and still the same as the day I shot them.

        Liked by 1 person

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