Joseph Nicéphore Niépce invented 1826 the process of photography as we know it: He was the first who managed to fix an image, projected by a Camera Obscura, on a surface, calling this process “Heliography”.
He used a mixture of light-sensitive bitumen and lavender oil and coated a plate of pewter with it. After an exposure time of around 8-10 hours he removed the unhardened bitumen.
“I have the satisfaction of being able to tell you that through an improvement in my process I have succeeded in obtaining a picture as good as I could wish . It was taken from your room at Le Gras with my biggest camera and my largest stone. The objects appear with astonishing sharpness and exactitude down to the smallest details and finest gradations. As the image is almost colorless, one can judge it only by holding it at an angle, and I can tell you the effect is downright magical.” —Joseph Nicéphore Niépce’s letter to his brother, Claude. 16 September 1824.
This unique object is shown currently in Mannheim, Germany, in the exhibition “Birth of Photography – Highlights of the Helmut Gernsheim Collection”.
It is called “View from the Window at Le Gras”.
As I saw it there, I was deeply touched. This little piece of metal holds a magic in it that has not lessened over the years. It is still fresh and brillant and astonishing like in the moment it was created. It is freezing time, it is promise, it is the first. It does not give away its magic easy. You have to change your viewing angle, first you see a few lines and shadows, you have to open your perception and your mind to get the whole image. It is something entirely different than a photography in our days.
You feel the light, the uniqueness, the bolt of invention, the revolution for the perception and visual transformation of the world.
This stroke of lightning is Uranus.
I wondered if it would be possible to find an astrological context for Niépce as a person and his spectacular invention.
Having a look at his chart with transits around the most likely time of his sucessful experiment (that is the early autumn of 1826), there is a pattern of signifinance.
Niépce is a Pisces, Sun conjunct North Node and Vesta. He is burning for his vision. Born at Full Moon, his Virgo Moon supports him with care for details and thoroughness. His Taurus Mars gives him enough stubbornness to follow his vision, constructively lighted up by the expansive vision of his Leo Neptune. His Mercury conjunct Venus in Aquarius in sextile to Uranus in Aries makes him highly inspired, driven by a need to invent and explore and find solutions combing beauty and technic (He just wanted to find a possibility to fix the Camera obscura image, because he was not able to draw the lines on paper!). His Pluto opposing Jupiter brings obsession. There is no “maybe” for him. I get the image of a restless, bright, nervous, single-minded, stubborn, persevering, enthusiastic and driven person.
At the time of his invention he had worked for years at different processes to fix and create images. It is likely that at least Uranus als a slow-moving Transsaturnian shows up in valid transits – Uranus was discovered 13. März 1781 by Wilhelm Herschel. I think in this case it makes sense to talk about Chiron and Neptune, too. Around the time Niépce worked on his processes, Alexis Bouvard found references in the path of Uranus that made likely that there were another planet out there. Neptune was discovered 1846. (I know that it is debatable to use non-yet discovered bodies for transit, but I like to integrate Chiron and Pluto , because I think Chiron was the key moment of Niépces development process and Pluto describes his obsession quite well.)
The transiting Chiron in Aries sextiles Niépces Mercury conjunct Venus in Aquarius the 16.10.1826 at 22°56´, very close to a conjunction with his Uranus on 19°15´in Aries. I think this is the time where his long process of mind went holistic.
The transiting Uranus had left his sextile to his Sun, the precise transit he had 29.01.1825, exactly in the period of experimenting already with his bitumen technique. (We remember: he called his invention “Heliography” – Drawing by Sun…)
Uranus went direct the 30.09.1926 on 20°9´, as close to the precise sextile to his 19°13´Vesta he would get ever again, finally leaving his impact zone on the self, the destination and the inner flame of Niépce.
Neptune had left the conjunction with his Pluto and opposition to his Jupiter, dissolving his obsession into something bigger and lighter, something inspired by expansion, not only Plutonian density.
Niépce created a technique which changed the visual perception of the world forever.
Sadly enough, he never got appreciated for his invention in his lifetime. He died by a stroke (!) at home 03.07.1833.
Now he would have had his Pluto return, his Lilith return and soon his Uranus return: no wonder his revolutionary little magical piece of pewter is shown to the world with all the appraisal it deserves, the first time out of the USA, since it was re-discovered in February 1952.
May this heliography, this unique writing by the Sun, inspire our minds by its magic for many years to come.