Tag Archives: Nicephore Niepce

Paris in October – part 35 – Chalon-sur-Saone, Rue De L’Oratoire

Joseph Nicephore Niepce was born in Chalon-sur-Saone on March 7, 1765 in a house at 9 (now 15 in the new address scheme) Rue De L’Oratoire. The house as it stands today is rather nondescript and gives no clue as to the inspiration behind the man who would invent photography. Rue De L’Oratoire is really more of an alley, closed in on one end, and the other opens to a pedestrian-only street.

In this view of number 15, Rue De L’Oratoire, you can see the plaque on the wall indicating the house where Niepce was born.

Niepce's Birthplace, 15 Rue de L'Oratoire
Niepce’s Birthplace, 15 Rue de L’Oratoire

A view of the street, including the house:

Niepce's Birthplace, Rue De L'Oratoire
Niepce’s Birthplace, Rue De L’Oratoire

If you are approaching Rue de L’Oratoire on foot from Rue General Leclerc, there is a driveway into which you can turn, at the end of which is this very ornate iron gate and lamp, guarding a private courtyard. I could not confirm but I believe the front of Niepce’s house faces this courtyard, which is infinitely more appealing than the Rue de L’Oratoire side. I did not photograph the house itself as it is currently lived in by private citizens.

Lamp, Iron Gate, Chalon
Lamp, Iron Gate, Chalon
Iron Gate, Chalon
Iron Gate, Chalon

The approach to the Rue de L’Oratoire from Rue General Leclerc is through what is now a car park, at the back of which can be found the Tour Saudon, a medieval tower. I assume the car park was once gardens for the tower. This is a close-up of the iron gate and door to the tower, which again, to the best of my ability to determine, is not open to the public.

Gate, Door, Tour Saudon
Gate, Door, Tour Saudon

Across Rue de L’Oratoire from the Tour Saudon, there is a 17th century courtyard apartment building. I could have spent an entire day just doing a photo essay on this courtyard. I would have loved to have seen inside some of the apartments – what would they look like now, and how would the layers of history be exposed/concealed in such a space?

17th Century Courtyard
17th Century Courtyard

The red-and-black marble tile paving on the sidewalk inside the carriageway is an enchanting detail to the space, and a very clear sign of its age. It almost feels like you’re looking at a painting, and not the actual stone.

Red and Black Marble Sidewalk, 17th Century Courtyard
Red and Black Marble Sidewalk, 17th Century Courtyard

The carriageway into the courtyard is, I suspect, the primary means of vehicular ingress and egress to the Rue de L’Oratoire, as the intersecting street at the bottom of the Rue is a pedestrian-only thoroughfare.

Door, Window, Carriageway, 17th Century Courtyard
Door, Window, Carriageway, 17th Century Courtyard
Staircase Tower Door, 17th Century Courtyard
Staircase Tower Door, 17th Century Courtyard

If you look through the archway over the Rue de L’Oratoire, you can see the pedestrian street, the Rue au Change. If the overpass connecting the apartment building with the building across the street looks Swiss, it should not be surprising in Chalon- it is about 70 miles (120km) to Geneva from Chalon. The building in the courtyard to which the iron gate and lamp at the top of this post is attached on the left looks just like a traditional Swiss chalet that you’d expect to see on an alpine meadow, not in the middle of a French town.

Overpass, Rue de l'Oratoire
Overpass, Rue de l’Oratoire

Paris in October – part 14 – More Chalon-sur-Saone

Here are a few more photos from Chalon-sur-Saone. The Niepce monument is the marker of the reason I took the trip in the first place – to visit the birthplace of photography. Nicephore Niepce invented the first successful photographic process, Heliography, in the mid 1820s. One reason most people haven’t heard of it and have never seen a photograph made by this process is that due to the extreme insensitivity to light of the chemicals, a single exposure required HOURS to record an image which ruled it out for photographing any non-static subject, like people, animals, or even plants, and it made photographing buildings difficult as well. In the early 1830s up until his death in 1833, he collaborated with Louis Daguerre, the net result of which was the publication of the Daguerreotype process in 1839.

Niepce Monument, Chalon
Niepce Monument, Chalon

This statue of Laocoon, an ancient Greek mythological figure of a priest who warned the Trojans against admitting the wooden horse into the city, and was punished by he and his sons being devoured by sea serpents (for various reasons by various deities, depending on which version of his story you read). He’s also credited with the phrase “beware of Greeks, bearing gifts”. It’s a bit of odd statuary to find in a random courtyard around the corner from the Niepce Museum in Chalon, but there it is.

Laocoon, Courtyard, Chalon
Laocoon, Courtyard, Chalon

In the same courtyard as the Laocoon statue, there was this iron plant stand in front of the stairs to a second-floor doctor’s office.

Stairs, Planter, Courtyard, Chalon
Stairs, Planter, Courtyard, Chalon

This is the basilica in Chalon. In significant architectural contrast to the old cathedral (which has parts dating back to the 7th century, and abuts the Roman walls of the town), this is clearly a 17th century structure. I peeked inside and the stained glass is very modern, like the lower windows at Notre Dame, but even more drab – greens and yellows and clear glass, and in desperate need of a cleaning from the outside. The light fixtures on the plaza are quite new and part of an effort to reinvigorate the downtown area. If you look carefully at them, at around the 12 foot mark, you’ll see metal disks protruding that serve as anti-climbing devices.

Basilica, Chalon
Basilica, Chalon

Paris in October – part 9 – Chalon-sur-Saone

Well, Chalon-sur-Saone is NOT in Paris, obviously. But I did go there as part of this trip. Chalon is a small city on the banks of the Saone (pronounced Son) river, about 130 kilometers from the Swiss border. The reason for the visit was not to take a river cruise (Chalon is the departure point for many river cruises as the Saone feeds into the Rhone river at Lyons and from there flows to the Mediterranean) but to visit the birthplace of photography. But didn’t Louis Daguerre invent it in Paris in 1839? No. Nicephore Niepce (pronounced Knee-eps) actually discovered the very first viable photographic process in 1822 when he was able to create photogravure etchings. By 1825 he was working with a process he called “heliography” involving coating bitumen of Judea dissolved in lavender oil on pewter plates. It was fine for mechanical reproduction of static subjects but not terribly useful for anything else, as his exposure times ran longer than eight hours. In the early 1830s he collaborated with Daguerre on developing an improved process. Alas, he died in 1833, and was not able to see the fruition of his labors.

Today’s post from Chalon covers the black-and-white photos I took. Chalon is more than river cruises and dead inventors – the town dates back to Roman times, and although little visible remains of its Roman years, the medieval core of the city is still very visible and accessible. The square in front of the cathedral features half-timbered buildings from the 14th century.

Patron Saint Statue, Chalon
Patron Saint Statue, Chalon

The cathedral in Chalon may look somewhat newer – the facade took heavy damage and was restored in the 19th century, but parts of the structure date back to the 8th.

Chalon Cathedral
Chalon Cathedral
Le Majorelle, Chalon Cathedral Square
Le Majorelle, Chalon Cathedral Square

Thinking of how things change, here we have very clear evidence – in the 19th century there was a major reformation of the way street addresses were indicated. Previously, instead of having odd numbered houses on one side of the street and evens on the other, the numbers would go up sequentially on one side of a street and when they reached the end of the street, they’d turn around and keep going up until they got to the beginning, so it was possible to have number 3 in the same block as number 252, which was extremely confusing. Also, with all the turmoil in France from the 1780s until the 1880s, streets were frequently re-named. This intersection shows what were once Rue Voltaire and Rue Comerce are now Rue du Pont and Rue du Chatelet.

Speculum Vitae, Chalon
Speculum Vitae, Chalon

Number 9 is a good example – I don’t know what the original street number was, but the 9 is a typical blue and white enamel-on-metal plaque from the late 19th/early 20th century. The house, obviously, dates to 1550.

Number 9, circa 1550
Number 9, circa 1550

Rue de L’Oratorie is another example. This is the street on which Niepce was born; his house is behind me, at modern #15. However, there is a plaque on the wall of the courtyard that leads to Rue de L’Oratorie which says the Niepce birth home is at #9. THe plaque indicating the location of the home was placed before the address reformation, so you can imagine my confusion when looking for #9 and not finding it at all! Fortunately Rue de L’Oratorie is only really 2 blocks long, and there is a second sign in the rue on the house itself. I don’t have photos of the house taken with the Rolleiflex because it’s quite nondescript and the rue itself is rather narrow at that end, making it hard to photograph more than a bit of a wall. I do have photos on my iPhone of the signs that I’ll post with the color images later.

Rue de L'Oratorie, Chalon
Rue de L’Oratorie, Chalon

These are views of the Tour Saudon, a 14th century tower house right around the corner from Niepce’s birthplace.

Tour Saudon, Gate
Tour Saudon, Gate
Tour Saudon, Rue de L'Oratorie
Tour Saudon, Rue de L’Oratorie

Also on the Rue de L’Oratorie, this house has a bridge connecting its two halves on each side of the street.

Bridge House, Rue de L'Oratorie
Bridge House, Rue de L’Oratorie