In 1999, Pierre-Yves Mahé, founder of Spéos photographic School, rented on the Gras estate in Saint-Loup-de-Varennes the very part of the house where Nicéphore Niépce had located his laboratory-workshop.
Since the inventor’s death in 1833, he was the first photographer to occupy the place, as the historical residence had remained literally unexplored, just gazed at from outside by the occasional passer-by.
Within a few years’ interval, Pierre-Yves Mahé and Jean-Louis Marignier both went to the Harry Ransom Center in Austin (Texas). Both of them held in their hands the oldest photograph in history: “Le point de vue pris de la fenêtre“ (“View from the window“), shot in 1827 by Niépce. They were deeply moved and ever since tried to follow Niépce’s footsteps, so as to rediscover the emotions of the man who made the very first photograph.
Archaeological findings and research on “Le point de vue pris de la fenêtre”
Pierre-Yves Mahé and Jean-Louis Marignier started excavations in the old Niépce laboratory-workshop, so as to restore the room back to the conditions known by Niépce. Different labs analyzed the covering of walls and floors. They confirmed Marignier’s theory, which presumed that the window from which “le point de vue” was shot, had actually been repositioned by 70cm from today’s window.
Lifting up the present floor boards, they not only found the actual floor Niépce used to walk on, but also the exact position of the former window.
The ensuing restoration of the Niépce House was the starting point of a major project to raise awareness of Niépce, his life and inventions.
A video on the well investigations
Spéos Paris Photographic Institute presents a 11-minute film on the Nicéphore Niépce House. In 2000, this film premiered at the open-air roman theater at the “Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie (RIP)” in Arles; it was nominated in 2001 at the International Scientific Film Festival in Orsay, as well as in 2002 at the 7th research film festival in Nancy. It was also shown in 2003 at the international congress dedicated to Nicéphore Niépce, “At First Light”, organized by the Getty Research Institute and the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center in Austin, Texas.