Saint-Loup de Varennes

A massive concrete sign outside this village just north of Chalon-sur-Saone in Bourgogne announces that Nicéphore Niépce invented photography here in 1822. For once, one of these weird historical claims appears to be accurate–as long as you define photography as the permanent imprinting of images on light-sensitive materials using chemicals.

The Niépce family was famously ill-tempered and eccentric–the oldest brother Claude went mad and died in London while marketing another family invention, the fuel-injected internal combustion engine (seriously–they named it the Pyréolophore). In the process, he managed to squander the family fortune so thoroughly that the father of photography himself nearly ended up an unmarked municipal grave. Judging by the current state of the village in this photo, no one got rich off all the experimentation, other than a Niépce partner, Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, who stole most of the credit with his Daguerreotype.

As long as we’re cluttering up your mind with useless information, Nicéphore was actually baptized Joseph, but changed his name to honor Saint Nicephorus. The latter led the 9th-century Iconodules in their successful fight to prevent the Byzantine Iconoclasts from outlawing the veneration of religious images.

Imagine a world without religious art or photography–except, thanks to these gents, you don’t have to.


Categories: Europe, France