London, May 7 : It might be a little out of focus, but the ochre-coloured image of a leaf printed on light-sensitive paper has been hailed as the world's first photograph, dating back more than 200 years, experts have claimed.
The image had been attributed to William Henry Fox Talbot, the father of modern photography, but may actually have been created 30 years before he achieved his world-changing breakthrough in 1835.
The image had been expected to fetch 50,000 pounds to 70,000 pounds at an auction in New York, but has now been withdrawn from the sale by Sotheby's for further investigation.
If it is confirmed as the world's earliest photograph, Sotheby's say that "the sky's the limit" as far as value is concerned.
The image, correctly known as a photogenic drawing, was created by laying a leaf on a sheet of light-sensitive paper, then exposing it to the Sun. The result is a detailed life-size image in which every vein of the leaf can be seen.
The photograph was last sold at Sotheby's in 1984 when it was attributed to Fox Talbot, who lived at Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire and was the first person to create a photographic negative that could be reproduced.
His early experiments also included photogenic drawings as he investigated ways to "fix" the image on light-sensitive paper and prevent it continuing to darken so much that it could not be seen.
The leaf was originally contained in an album belonging to Sir Henry Bright, a 19th-century Bristol MP and patron of the arts and sciences.
"The possibility of a definitive conclusion regarding this early photogenic drawing is very exciting. We were expecting 50,000 pounds to 70,000 pounds for it. If it could be authenticated as the world's oldest photograph, the sky could be the limit," Times Online quoted Denise Bethel, the photographic expert at Sotheby's in New York, as saying.