First Photograph Of A Human Being, 1838

Boulevard du Temple, Paris, 3. Arondissement is the first ever photograph of a human being. The daguerreotype was taken in Paris by Louis Daguerre (1787–1851), on a date that has been calculated as between 24 April and 4 May 1838. It is of a busy street, but because exposure time was over ten minutes, the city traffic was moving too much to appear. The exception is a man in the bottom left corner, who stood still getting his boots polished long enough to show. Less discernible, but also visible, is the boot black. As Geoffrey Batchen has noted, this is therefore also the first photo to illustrate both labour and class difference. See also Jenkins, who notes the possibility that there are one or two other people also discernible.

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What strikes me about this is the date, the year 1838. That means everything we know about what humans looked like before then is from something other than a photograph. It comes from artist rendition, reconstruction from remains, perhaps molds and casts. People’s descriptions. Not a photograph. Nothing that could reveal the glint in someone’s eyes, or the way they held their face and body at a particular moment. Do you think? It’s been less than 200 years that we could see ourselves as we do. I wonder how this has changed us.

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