On his way to England, Niépce met in Paris with Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre, painter and decor designer, who had a reputation as camera obscura specialist. Hoping to shorten the exposure time of his process, Niépce decided in 1829, to associate Daguerre to his research to build a camera obscura giving brighter images. This association did not bring any noticable progress to the bitumen process, on the other hand, the two partners discovered new photographic processes using as photosensitive agents tree resins and the residue of lavender oil distillation. With those, the exposure time went down to about 8 hours in the sun.

Principle and technique of the physautotype

The photosensitive agent of this process fine-tuned by Niépce and Daguerre in 1832 was the residue of lavender oil distillation.

1 – Niépce and Daguerre obtained this residue evaporating lavender oil by heating it until they got a dry product. Submitted to heat, lavender oil takes a a yellow hue that intensifies with the elimination of the volatile stuff.
2 – After distillation, only a dark brown tar dessicated by heat is left, becoming hard and brittle.
invention photographie-bitume-judee-013 – Niépce and Daguerre would then dissolved a small amount of this tar in alcohol, then pour the solution on a well polished silver plate
invention photographie-bitume-judee-014 – After the alcohol evaporation, a uniform white deposit remained on the plate. The thus prepared plate was exposed to light in the camera obscura (for about 7 to 8 hours).
invention photographie-bitume-judee-015 – After exposure, the plate was put upside down above a tray holding oil of white petroleum (something like kerosene). The fumes of this kerosene were sufficient to develop the image without any further treatment.


invention photographie-physautotype06
This process gives directly positive images, since the white deposit remains on the plate, at places that were touched by light, while the kerosene fumes render transparent the zones that were not illuminated. However, with the effect of reflexions on the metal appearing at places where the white deposit has become transparent, images can be seen as positive or negative.

> See the first reconstitution of “La table servie” (the set table) in Niépce’s House.