All Blog Posts

Someone Had To Be First

November 12, 2012

We know so many important names in history, the first human to set foot on the moon, the first person to fly solo over the Atlantic or the first intrepid souls to reach the poles or scale Mount Everest, but who was the first person to have their picture taken?


Having our picture snapped is an occurrence we all take for granted. You don’t need to be a famous fashion model to be photographed relentlessly. We’re photographed at the DMV, entering banks and convenience stores, enjoying ourselves at sporting events, pausing at stop lights and often just walking down the street, which many see as a violation of privacy. Conservative estimates place the number of photographs taken by year 2000 at an amazing 85 billion—an incredible 2,500 photos per second—and experts believe we are rapidly closing in on 3.5 trillion photographs. But, as in all things, when it comes to having your picture taken someone had to be first.


In 1838 Louis Daguerre, the father of modern photography, tired of taking still-life pictures of fruit and plaster casts in the corner of his Parisian studio. He aimed his bulky contraption out the window to shoot a photograph of bustling Boulevard du Temple below. He held his camera as steady as he could for ten minutes, the amount of time required for an exposure. His arms must have ached when he finally set down his cumbersome camera. The picture Daguerre later developed showed the boulevard just as he’d seen it. Well, not exactly; the buildings and trees were perfectly recorded, but where were the well-dressed couples promenading down the street? Where were the bustling carriages and prancing horses? What happened to the street peddlers showing their wares to young dandies out for a leisurely stroll? 


Daguerre’s picture took so long to develop that all moving things disappeared from the scene, as if they hadn’t been there at all. Or so it seems. If you look closely at the bottom left hand corner of the image, a man stands on the otherwise empty street. Who is he? Had he been an astronaut or explorer we would surely know his name. He is standing still because he is having his shoes shined—the man doing the polishing is moving too quickly to be recorded and has blurred into oblivion. Upwards of fifty billion pictures of people have been taken since the perfection of photography, and this man, oblivious to the significance of the moment, was the first. Yet we know nothing about him. Perhaps he was someone just like you.


How many times have you paused on a sunny day for a simple pleasure? An ice cream cone, a chat with a friend, a lingering moment on a park bench to watch the world pass by. Haven’t we all done these things and disregarded them as common occurrences unworthy of reflection? Once upon a time a fellow paused to have his shoes shined.


Treasure each moment of your new life because at any moment something extraordinary can happen. 




actually - the very first picture taken may well have been a few thousand years before Daguerre - there is a theory that The Turin Shroud was the product of a camera obscura, of a kind - ie in that the cloth was held up inside a cave with a single eye-hole and the result was that the image of something outside was forever etched onto the material
By: Don't Feed The Pixies on November 12, 2012
Wow, I didn't know this about photography. Well, I'm not a photographer either. Ten minutes seems a lifetime to get that picture. I'm sure it was too. Have a terrific day. :)
By: Comedy Plus on November 12, 2012
What a completely fascinating post! I had never before thought about who was the first to be photographed. I assumed it was documented somehow. That we don't know who it was is somehow cool.
By: Suldog on November 12, 2012
Cool story.
By: Joe on November 12, 2012
This is pure magic!
By: Mitchell is Moving on November 12, 2012
Cool! There is something sort of magical (or at least metaphorical) in the people disappearing while the buildings remain.
By: Dana the Biped on November 12, 2012
I remember reading about this photo a while ago. It is, indeed, a cool story! Certainly the man in the photograph had no clue about being "the first one." And I don't think Louis Daguerre had any idea what he started...
By: Pixel Peeper on November 12, 2012
Another fine, thought provoking post which appeals to my love of photography. Thanks for that.
By: Hilary on November 12, 2012
That is a really interesting story. I love the really old photographs. Even those that have discolored somewhat have such charm. It's sort of a shame the man remained anonymous. He played a rather unique part in history, only to be never acknowledged.
By: Cheryl P. on November 12, 2012
That is such a neat story and such an inspiring thought you got out of it. You never know what might happen next, right?
By: Kianwi on November 12, 2012
Aha! Got it! Thanks for telling me to add the word "/blog". That made the difference.
By: Catalyst/Bruce on November 13, 2012
This is an amazing fact that I never really considered until I read your post, Stephen! :)
By: Michael Manning on November 13, 2012
I'm truly enjoying the design and layout of your blog. It's a very easy on the eyes which makes it much more enjoyable for me to come here and visit more often. Did you hire out a developer to create your theme? Outstanding work! Beats Studio Diamond
By: Beats Studio Diamond on November 14, 2012
I never thought about this. I guess I take a lot of things for granted, which you beautifully point out that we shouldn't.
By: The Insomniac's Dream on November 14, 2012
thanks for the history lesson! Everyone had disappeared except for the one standing still....poof. I think there's another story there.
By: Kathe W. on November 18, 2012

Leave a Comment


Return to All Blog Posts Main Page

RSS 2.0   Atom