Oldest Photograph of a Human Is Back in the Spotlight

Daguerre.1838.Marshable

Louis Daguerre’s 1838 photograph of the Boulevard du Temple, Paris.
Photo via: Mashable.

Taken in 1838, Louis Daguerre’s photograph of a Paris street scene shows a man standing along the Boulevard du Temple getting his shoes shined. It is widely believed to be the earliest extant photograph of human figures. Already well known to photography connoisseurs, the picture, as reported by CNN and others, is lately enjoying sudden renewed interest since the news site Mashable, in collaboration with the photo archive site Retronaut, published high-resolution images and detailed analysis of the photo earlier this week.

Shot from an upper-story window, the cityscape features two figures who appear as shadowy silhouettes in the lower left portion of the picture. Both are unidentifiable, but the man in a hat and jacket, with his leg up on the shoeshine kit, is clearly visible. He must have been standing incredibly still, since the silver plate, or silver-covered copper plate photo process Daguerre used, required about seven minutes of exposure time. The shoeshine boy was in action, making his presence in the photo little more than ghostly. Likewise, most of the other people and the horse-drawn carriages that were on the scene moved too briskly to be recorded by Daguerre’s camera.

In the recent studies, though, other phantom personages seem to emerge in this landmark photograph. If you look closely, you might be able to make out a small child and a dog on the opposite side of the street. A child’s face appears in a window of the white building in the foreground; and, like a mirage, two women and a cart hazily come into focus near the shoeshine boy.


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