The first photographs of smell

When thinking about capturing smell it seems impossible, it’s possible through memory, which gives us phantom smells from certain images, like an aged photo, when it’s in your hand you can’t help but smell a musty old smell, even if it isn’t there. But these believe it or not are images are the first photographs of smell.


Taken by the scientist H.Devaux and were first publicly shown in The Illustrated London News on the 10th September 1938. The two images show the odor of a lily and of camphor. I suppose you are wondering how H.Devaux managed to capture smell. This quote that accompanied the pictures in there first appearance explains how….

The emission of an odor involves volatillisation of material. If an odiferous material is enclosed in a cell a few millimeters above a clean mercury surface, it is possible to collect on the surface of the mercury a monomolecular layer of the volatillising or odoriferous substance. If the mercury surface initially is covered with talc powder, the gradual formation of the monomolecules layer may be observed as the talc is gradually pushed away from the point immediately below the specimen of material.

Visually the images are stunning and the creation of them makes them all the more fascinating, and proves there can be direct links between photography and sense of smell.

About phonarphotosense

PHOTOSENSE is a exploration of narrative and the response of the different senses.

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