Oldest known photograph of a person

16 04 2012

Boulevard du Temple by Louis Daguerre

This is generally acknowledged to be the earliest known photograph of a human – a man getting his shoes shined in Paris. It was made by Louis Daguerre in 1838. You’ll find it all over the internet, and I came across it again today by chance. If you click on it, you will see a large version of it, and it’s well worth a look.

I’d love to see how it looks in print, but there wouldn’t have been an original print – it is essentially negative on a plate, but can appear positive when the reflective surface relects something dark. On my large monitor, it looks rather like a charcoal drawing. It is of course a Daguerrotype, so named after the creator of that process, Louis Daguerre. I’ve written a bit about this before, and of course it has been written by many far more learned scholars than I.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to know how the street really looked that day. Were there other people milling about? Perhaps a horse and cart or two? Maybe someone peeped out the windows of the house in the foreground, seeing Daguerre and his strange contraption pointing in their direction? Of course we’ll never know, the long exposure rendering all activity on the street invisible, apart from the ghostly figures of the man and his shoe shiner, the first souls to be caught on camera.

– Rory

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