Friday, 28 September 2012

A few of my favorite things. Well, one of them, really.

I really like black and white images. I also like history, old photographs, and mysteries. Allow me to introduce you to a picture that combines all of these things. It is the first known photograph ever taken of a human being. 

See if you can spot the person. Kind of like Where’s Wally? I call it Where's the Shadowy Unnamed Victorian Gentleman?

What do you mean, you can’t see any red and white stripes? 

Didn’t see him? I didn’t the first time, either. Here, let me show you:

Here’s a close-up:

Even his fuzzy silhouette looks dapper and charming. I hereby dub thee ‘Mr Darcy'.

This photograph is called Boulevard du Temple and it was taken by a man called Louis Daguerre. It’s kind of a cool story.

One afternoon in 1838 in Paris, Louis Daguerre left his daguerreotype (a type of camera he had invented himself) in the window to take a photo of the Boulevard. At this time cameras were not used to take pictures of people. This is because the exposure time (in very simplified terms, the time it took to capture the image) was over ten minutes, and nobody could sit still long enough. Back then, if you walked right past the lens of a camera while it was taking a picture you wouldn’t even show up.

So Daguerre, when he put his daguerreotype in the window, was only planning to take a picture of the static objects, the buildings and trees and such. The Boulevard du Temple was actually a very busy street, so at the time the picture was taken there were loads of people and carriages passing by, only they don’t show up in the picture because they were moving. Pretty creepy, right?

So why, then, does the mystery man show up? Here’s the thing: during the exact minutes that Louis Daguerre put his camera on the window ledge, Mr. Darcy stopped to have his boots shined, and stood still just long enough that his image was captured on the camera he didn’t even know was there. The blurry shadow of the boy shining his boots is just visible if you look very carefully, although he isn’t nearly as crisp because, of course, he was moving.

Isn’t that fantastic? Getting your boots shined was just a routine, everyday thing in those days. On this particular day 200 years ago this gentleman gets his image captured forever, and then walks away none the wiser. He’s the first person ever to be photographed and we’ll never know who he was. And Mr Darcy probably lived out the rest of his life in complete ignorance, not knowing that two hundred years later people would be examining his posture, determining exactly what he was doing at that very moment, and writing articles about him on the internet.

So that’s the story of the Boulevard du Temple. I have a few other pictures I love, and most of them have nice histories, so I might be telling y’all about those in the future. Does anybody else have a favorite photograph?

[I wrote the majority of this article from memory. If any of the information is inaccurate it is completely my own fault.]