Top 25 Most Ancient Historical Photographs

For times immemorial, people have tried to reproduce their surroundings into pictures of their own. They have used techniques of paintings, carving and sculpturing and for years images have been projected onto surfaces. Photography is the result of combining several technical discoveries. Long before the first photographs were made, Chinese and Greek philosophers described a pinole camera. But it was until Ibn – al – Haytham (965 – 1040) a Muslim scientist made significant contributions to the principles of optics and invented the camera obscura which is a prototype of today’s modern camera. While this early prototype may have had modest usage in its time, it was an important step in the evolution of the invention.


1.  Earliest Known Photograph [1825]

Source: (Link)

Earliest known, surviving heliographic engraving in existence, made by Nicéphore Niépce in 1825 by the heliography process. His illustration is of an etching printed from a metal plate that was etched following alteration of the ground by sunlight; the image is of a 17th Century Flemish engraving showing a man leading a horse.


2. The First Photograph Ever Taken “View from the Window at Le Gras” [Circa, 1826]

Source: (Link)

The first permanent photograph (later accidentally destroyed) was an image produced in 1822 by the French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce. His photographs were produced on a polished pewter plate covered with a petroleum derivative called bitumen of Judea. View from the Window at Le Gras (La cour du domaine du Gras) was the first successful permanent photograph, created by Nicéphore Niépce in 1826 at Saint-Loup-de-Varennes. Niépce captured the photo with a camera obscurafocused onto a sheet of 20 × 25 cm oil-treated bitumen. As a result of the 8-hour exposure, sunlight illuminates the buildings on both sides.


3. The First Photograph of a Human “Boulevard Du Temple” [Paris, 1838]

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Boulevard du Temple, taken byLouis Daguerrein late 1838, was the first-ever photograph of a person. It is an image of a busy street, but because exposure time was over ten minutes, the city traffic was moving too much to appear. The exception is a man in the bottom left corner, who stood still getting his boots polished long enough to show up in the picture.


4. The First Light Picture and Human Potrait Ever Taken [Oct,Nov 1839]

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Robert Cornelius, self-portrait, Oct. or Nov. 1839, approximate quarter plate daguerreotype which is a procedure invented in 1839 using silver on a copper plate. The back reads, “The first light picture ever taken.” This self-portrait is the first photographic portrait image of a human ever produced.


5. Roger Fenton’s Photographic Van [1855]

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Roger Fenton (20 March 1819 – 8 August 1869) was a pioneering British photographer, one of the first war photographers. In 1855 Fenton went to the Crimean War on assignment for the publisher Thomas Agnew to photograph the troops, with a photographic assistant Marcus Sparling and a servant and a large van of equipment. Despite high temperatures, breaking several ribs, and suffering from cholera, he managed to make over 350 usable large format negatives. An exhibition of 312 prints was soon on show in London.


6. Phineas Gage (Around 1850)

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A daguerreotype image believed to be of railway worker Phineas Gage holding a tamping iron that went through his head during an explosion on a worksite in 1848. Phineas P. Gage (July 9?, 1823 – May 21, 1860)was a railroad construction foreman now remembered for his incredible survival of an accident in which a large iron rod was driven completely through his head, destroying one or both of his brain’s frontal lobes, and for that injury’s reported effects on his personality and behavior—effects so profound that friends saw him as “no longer Gage.” Gage recovered from the accident and retained full possession of his reason, but his wife and other people close to him soon began to notice dramatic changes in his personality. Phineas Gage’s brain was not subjected to any medical examination at that time, but seven years later his body was exhumed so his skull could be studied. Today Gage’s skull is on permanent display at Harvard’s Countway Library of Medicine.


7. Bridge of Boats over Indus Attock [SubContinent 1861]

Source: Unknown

Attock a part of Pakistan now passed one of the biggest rivers in the world, the Indus connecting the India and Pakistan largest canal system in the world  before the Pakistani Independance.


8. Lahore Fort (Pakistan, 1864)

Source: Unknown

The Lahore Fort, locally referred to as Shahi Qila is citadel of the city of Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan. It is located in the northwestern corner of the Walled City of Lahore. The trapezoidal composition is spread over 20 hectares. It is not known who built the fort and neither is it known when it was built. Origins of the fort go as far back as antiquity, however, the existing base structure was built during the reign of Mughal emperor Akbar (1556-1605), and was regularly upgraded by subsequent rulers, having thirteen gates in all. Thus the fort manifests the rich traditions of Mughal architecture. Its not known who took the photograph but it was one of the finest and first photographs from asia.


9. The Photo of the first Photographic Studio [1893]

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A photographer appears to be photographing himself in a 19th-century photographic studio.


10. First Color Photograph [1861]

Source: (Link)

Although color photography was explored throughout the 19th century, initial experiments in color resulted in projected temporary images, rather than permanent color images. Moreover until the 1870s the emulsions available were not sensitive to red or green light.The first color photo, an additive projected image of a tartan ribbon, was taken in 1861 by the Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell.


11. Lincoln’s Second Inauguration [1865]

Source: (Link)

The photo above was originally mislabeled as President Grant’s inauguration ceremony. A curator discovered the photographs while reviewing a log book noticed the caption “Lincoln” in the margins. After careful comparison between the only known photos of the inauguration (just two existed) it was concluded that this photo is actually a crowd scene at Lincoln’s second inauguration. There are two recently discovered photographs of Lincoln but they have not been officially verified. This Photo was discovered this year in a personal album of President Ulysses S. Grant and apparently shows Lincoln in front of the White House.


12. First Subtractive Color Photograph [1872]

Source: Unknown

Before the autochrome process was perfect in France, this photograph was taken by Louis Arthur Ducos du Hauron who invented the subtractive (cyan, magenta, and yellow) color method of taking photographs. Louis was a French pioneer in color photography and he worked in both subtractive and additive (red, green, and blue) color. This particularly photograph is called “Landscape of Southern France”.

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18 thoughts on “Top 25 Most Ancient Historical Photographs

  1. How curious the similarities between the photo of the flag being raised over the Reichstag and the flag raising on Mt. Suribachi on Iwo Jima, in that the famous picture of the Marines was also a re-enactment of an earlier raising.

  2. Maria,

    Yes, that girl is naked.

    “Phan Thị Kim Phúc, O.Ont (born 1963) is a Vietnamese-Canadian best known as the child subject of a Pulitzer Prize winning photograph taken during the Vietnam War on June 8, 1972. The iconic photo taken in Trang Bang by AP photographer Nick Ut shows her at about age nine running naked on the street after being severely burned on her back by a South Vietnamese napalm attack. ”

    Her clothes were burned off in the attack.

  3. *maria Yes she was naked…to know Napalm is to know if it was to get on your clothes it would continue burning so the first reaction would be to rip off the offending article…and since I imagine kids didnt exactly have luxiurious conditions in vietnam it probably wasnt much.

  4. To Bill S. in the second comment. Several people flew before the Wright Brothers. The Wright Brothers are famous for it BECAUSE there was a camera around when it happened. Fortunate for them.
    It doesn’t take too much effort to learn more than just what we were taught in school. Here is a link to get you started.

  5. Some fascinating pictures, especially the really “ancient historical” ones (1 through 4 and maybe 9 through 13).

    I think you’re a bit tripped up over what you mean by “historical” though. Pictures like 20, 21, 22, 25 aren’t really historical in at all the same way as the first four. They capture historical moments, and are iconic, but they aren’t in themselves examples of the development of photography, are they? (If I’m wrong, please put me right!)

    The Lincoln inauguration photo (11) is one picture that might fall into both catagories. Likewise the Lunar footprint (24). The astronauts took a specially made camera with them (the Hasselblad 500EL Data Camera), which was used to take this picture.
    (See here: )

    Not really sure why you’ve chosen to include 7 and 8. Are they the earliest photos from the subcontinent? (The date on 7 is wrong, by the way. Should be 1863.) The photo of the bridge (7) was taken by the Irish photographer William Baker. The photo of the fort (8) was probably taken by Baker or by John Burke – another Irish photographer.
    (See “From Kashmir to Kabul” by Omar Khan – )


  6. As for autochrome color photographs, are you aware of the pre-WWI images of Russian photographer Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii? The Library of Congress has an online exhibition here. He also took the only color photo of Leo Tolstoy.

    Another pre-WWI Russian photographer working in color was the writer Leonid Andreyev. Not much of his work is online, but you can probably find a book of his work in your library.

  7. Great collection of pictures, there are a few here that are new to me….the lynching one freaks me out every time.

  8. Soldier, according to, can be “one engaged in military service”. That may not be the most common usage, but close enough for me!

    Picture #17 show French soldiers(I think) engaged in trench warfare. Since ww1 had not started yet, the date must be wrong, or that is not a Frenchman, or there was another war. I’d like to know. Anyone?

  9. i believe in the caption of the photo they are saying that the people who took that photo were french

  10. I love how the hitlers photograph looks all artsy and modern, his artistic stoic look is priceless. Lol

  11. There’s this black guy that’s ALWAYS in the crowd at Rockefeller Plaza in the Today show. I switch it on and the kids i always yell “SuperFly!!!!” when we spot him. I reference him as Don Cornelius.

  12. Watching American Bandstand,then Soul Train on Saturday mornings and dancing like happy epileptics would have been a great way to start the weekend. It was always after a slumber party with a friend or cousin’s house. Aretha Franklin singing “Rock Steady” may be the first one I remember-I was about five and would hula-hoop like Alvin on speed. Does anyone remember “the Bump”? The Afro-Sheen commercials were so fly. Even though Don Cornelius’s funeral is very private,I expect you will have a memorial/tribute show for him. Singers should be those who are capable of doing with dignity.It could be best to have people who appeared on Soul Train during its peak years. Any ideas,hussies?

  13. Maria, that is one of the most famous pictures ever and so is that naked girl as you call here. Her clothes were burned off by the impact of the bomb. She survived and is 49 today

  14. What’s the story regarding photo #9? Could this be the Orr Brothers Photographers…twins from Indiana, who moved to Illinois and then Oklahoma.
    The brothers Robert and William were born in 1863 and are shown in U.S. Census’s as being photographers and owning a Photography Shop. Any info would be greatly appreciated.

  15. In regards to number 22 of the soviet forces raising the flag in Berlin you missed an important detail. There were to versions of this photograph, the first which you have displayed clearly shows two wristwatches on the soldier helping the one planting the flag. Russian brass had the photographer doctor the image to remove one of them as it was evidence of Russian soldiers looting after their victory.

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