Wednesday, November 26, 2014

First Photographs of a Human Being

In 1893, Robert Cornelius, a handsome man with tousled hair, stood outside of his family's lamp business in Philadelphia, took the lens cap off of a camera, and jumped in front for a minute of still posing. This created the first clear, recognizable picture of a human being ever taken. On the back of the developed photograph he wrote, “The first light Picture ever taken. 1839.”

But a few months earlier, Louis Daguerre, inventor of the Daguerretype, took a photo of Boulevard du Temple in Paris. The street, also known as Boulevard du Crime for the many crime dramas playing at its many theaters (and used as a setting for the legendary French film "Les Enfants du Paradis" which I wrote about here), was bustling with people and traffic. But because the exposure was necessarily so long--up to ten minutes is the general guess of historians--only those items that were immobile showed up. And in the bottom left corner, one can make out the silhouette of a man standing upright, having his boots shined.

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