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First Photograph To Travel To Europe For First Time in 50 Years

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The first photograph will be loaned, along with 119 other images and photography-related items from the Harry Ransom Center’s Gernsheim collection, to the Reiss Englehorn Museum in Mannheim, Germany, for the exhibition “The Birth of Photography-Highlights of the Helmut Gernsheim Collection.” The exhibition runs from Sept. 9 through Jan. 6, 2013.

The first photograph has been removed from display at the Ransom Center to be prepared for its departure in July. The first photograph will be back on display at the Ransom Center in February 2013.

The first photograph was acquired by the Ransom Center, a humanities research library and museum at The University of Texas at Austin, as part of the Gernsheim collection from Helmut and Alison Gernsheim in 1963. Taken in 1826 or 1827, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce’s “View from the Window at Le Gras” depicts the view from an upstairs window at Niépce’s estate, Le Gras, which is in the Burgundy region of France. Niépce’s photograph represents the foundation of today’s photography, film and other media arts.

After being displayed in London exhibitions around the turn of the 20th century, Niépce’s photograph lay in obscurity for half a century. In 1952 the photography historian and collector Helmut Gernsheim established the plate’s history and approached the widow of the heliograph’s last owner, who had left it, forgotten. Through Gernsheim’s scholarship and detective work, his rediscovery returned Niépce to his rightful place as the inventor of photography.

The first photograph forms the cornerstone of Helmut Gernsheim’s photographic collection, which was the largest in the world when the Ransom Center acquired it in 1963. The Gernsheim collection is one of the seminal collections in the United States of the history of photography and contains an unparalleled range of more than 35,000 images. Its encyclopedic scopeas well as the expertise with which the Gernsheims assembled the collection makes the Gernsheim collection one of the world’s premier sources for the study and appreciation of photography

In 2002, the Forum International Photographie at the Reiss Engelhorn Museum acquired Gernsheim’s later collection of contemporary photography, along with his own photographs and archive. For the first time in half a century, major portions of both Gernsheim collections are being reunited: the historical material housed in the Ransom Center and the contemporary collection in the Forum International Photographie at the Reiss Engelhorn Museum.

The first photograph has been loaned three times since the Ransom Center’s acquisition in 1963, and it has been on permanent display in the Center’s lobby since the Center’s renovation in 2003. This is the first time in more than 50 years that the first photograph will be on display in Europe.

While the first photograph is on loan, the photographic print  “View from the Window at Le Gras, 1826, 2009” by Adam Schreiber will occupy the display in the Ransom Center’s lobby. The photograph depicts the Niepce plate in situ in the museum display, as photographed by Schreiber in 2009. Schreiber is a member of the Lakes Were Rivers artist collective, a group of artists who work primarily in photography and video. In summer 2013, the Ransom Center will host an exhibition in which members of the collective will display their original works paired with Ransom Center collection material that inspired them.

High-resolution images of the first photograph are available.