18 Jan 2009

First Photograph of Human Being

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Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre (1787-1851), View of the boulevard du Temple, taken 1838 or 1839

The on-line image (released by the government of France) is a bit small (click on photo above for larger image), but shows distantly a man standing being served by a bootblack. To my eye, the most exotic aspects of the scene are all the fairy-tale style chimney pots and the paired allées of trees on each side of the street.

When Louis Jacques-Mande Daguerre made his daguerreotype of the Boulevard du Temple in 1838, the exposure time was so long (probably between 10 and 20 minutes) he was unable to capture the hurrying figures and the moving traffic in this busy Paris Street. Only a man who had to remain still while his shoes were polished by a boot-black, was completely captured on Daguerre’s silvered copper plate. Although, as a contemporary noted at the time, the boulevard in question was “constantly filled with a moving throng of pedestrians and carriages”, the street in Daguerre’s early photograph appeared to be completely deserted “except for an individual who was having his boots brushed.” In fact, the shoeshine man himself must also be included as one of the first human figures to be depicted in photography. But as a German magazine of 1839 observed, the man “having his boots polished . . . must have held himself extremely still for he can be very clearly seen, in contrast the shoeshine man, whose ceaseless movement causes him to appear completely blurred and imprecise.”

Nicholas Jenkins analyzes the photo best, locating the shot, identifying the time of day, and explaining why we can’t see the bootblack.

According to the Gernsheims in L. J. M. Daguerre: The History of the Diorama and the Daguerreotype, Daguerre took the images from his laboratory-eyrie in the 350-seat Diorama Building, which stood at 4, rue Sanson, at the intersection with the rue des Marais, and which from the back looked out roughly southwards, high over the rooftops, towards boulevard du Temple.

Read the whole thing.

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From Listverse via Andrew Sullivan.

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