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If someone had been thinking, they would have been holding up rabbit ear fingers behind his head!
October 29, 2010 7:02 PM   Subscribe

The first photographic image of a person was probably an accident. Taken by Louis Daguerre in Paris, the individual made history by not moving for 10 minutes. An interesting little article on the NPR science blog.
posted by HuronBob (30 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Pretty interesting. I wonder about Daguerre's reaction upon looking at the 'photo' - would he think it was astonishing that only scenery was captured, and no people? I would have been, but he probably better understood the process.

You can see the enlarged picture here, on wikipedia.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 7:11 PM on October 29, 2010


"- maybe to have his boots shined -"

Or maybe there's some other reason

(Sorry to lower the tone like that, but after seeing that daguerreotype a few times over the last few days that comic is what immediately comes to mind ;-)
posted by Pinback at 7:12 PM on October 29, 2010


S and T, thanks for the link to the wiki... I wasn't aware of that...
posted by HuronBob at 7:19 PM on October 29, 2010


If you look really closely, the guy's holding something to his ear, and he's talking into it.
posted by crunchland at 7:22 PM on October 29, 2010 [13 favorites]


The photo are fascinating, but the reporting is terrible. Both Krulwich at NPR and Nicholas Jackson at The Atlantic write as though Hokumburg uncovered a previously unknown photo. As many commenters point out, the 1838 Daguerre photo (er, daguerreotype) is very well known and has been a staple of history of photography classes for decades. (The misinformation is entirely Krulwich and Jackson's fault - Hokumburg makes no claim to discovery in his post, he's just analyzing the photograph.)

That said, it's a very cool bit of history and I'm glad to see it getting wider exposure.
posted by bettafish at 7:27 PM on October 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


For me, the fascinating aspect of this photo is the accidental nature of it. I wasn't aware of it prior to today, and if someone had asked me to speculate on the "first photo of a person" my assumption would be that it was some carefully planned portrait. This, however, has a sense similar to fossil footprints of an ancient dinosaur or an unfortunate bug caught in amber, wrong place, wrong time.
posted by HuronBob at 7:45 PM on October 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh god I look so fat in this.
posted by The Whelk at 7:47 PM on October 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


How long does a picture like this have to be exposed? Is it possible that the "two" people are actually one person who just spent a long time in two different positions?
posted by ErWenn at 7:58 PM on October 29, 2010


Inset panel, middle right : "The image shows a street, but because of the over ten minute exposure time the moving traffic does not appear. The exceptions are the man and shoe-shine boy at the bottom left, and two people sitting at a table nearby who stood still long enough to have their images captured."
posted by crunchland at 8:04 PM on October 29, 2010


I wonder about Daguerre's reaction upon looking at the 'photo' - would he think it was astonishing that only scenery was captured, and no people? I would have been, but he probably better understood the process.

Daguerre had been working on photography with Joseph Niépce (who is responsible for one of the oldest known photos -- which is actually at the University of Texas at Austin) since 1829 (Niépce asked him to help but died 4 years later).. so he probably had a pretty good idea that nobody would show up on a really long exposure like that.

It's also interesting that Samuel Morse of telegraph fame helped bring Daguerreotypes to America.

How long does a picture like this have to be exposed? Is it possible that the "two" people are actually one person who just spent a long time in two different positions?

Wikipedia says >10 minutes -- the first Daguerreotypes took about 30 minutes but the process was refined later on to about a minute in the heyday of Daguerreotype portraits.
posted by starman at 8:06 PM on October 29, 2010


the individual made history by not moving for 10 minutes.

My manager just doesn't understand my quest to make history.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 8:09 PM on October 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


If you look really closely, the guy's holding something to his ear, and he's talking into it.
posted by crunchland at 7:22 PM on October 29 [2 favorites +] [!]

From the future, then, and probably this woman's father.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 8:20 PM on October 29, 2010


Uh, thanks.
posted by crunchland at 8:23 PM on October 29, 2010


No, see; he was explaining your joke there. You probably just didn't pick up on that.
posted by Curious Artificer at 8:25 PM on October 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Cheeeeeeeeeeee...
posted by pracowity at 8:45 PM on October 29, 2010


So, in this photo that is speculated upon towards the beginning of the linked article, it's obvious that the two guys are fishing, right? They are standing more or less in the same spot for several minutes, directly facing the water. One guy rests a leg on the wood rail at the lip of the dock they're on. The other guy is standing on the rail and moving his feet around, maybe fidgeting a bit, but keeping his upper torso oriented towards his fishing line.
posted by killdevil at 8:47 PM on October 29, 2010


...eeeeeeeeeeeese.
posted by pracowity at 9:01 PM on October 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


Just months after Daguerre's Paris photo, Robert Cornelius produced a self portrait that is considered the first intentional picture of a person. At the time he was also known around town for his skill as a ventriloquist, but his photography studio is what he is remembered for. I liked it so much, I used him in the logo for my camera related project.
posted by autopilot at 9:15 PM on October 29, 2010


And how auspicious that the first person to be photographed was so... photogenic.
posted by dgaicun at 10:18 PM on October 29, 2010


Interestingly, Robert Cornelius looks more than a little bit like Bill Compton.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 12:53 AM on October 30, 2010


For years afterwards, Daguerre kicked himself every time he looked at the prints and thought:

Damn, I knew my assistant left that mannequin somewhere..
posted by Ahab at 3:53 AM on October 30, 2010


That's an insult to Cornelius. Though he does look modern, Cornelius.

Normally I dislike colorization, but this one I find interesting because I tend to forget that grass was green back in old days
posted by IndigoJones at 6:58 AM on October 30, 2010


Is it possible that the "two" people are actually one person who just spent a long time in two different positions?

It could be; there was a team photo from the early 1900s in Ken Burns's Baseball that had the same player in it twice. As the camera slowly panned across the assembled players, he stood at one end, then ducked behind his teammates and ran to the other end of the group before the camera exposed that area. Unfortunately I can't find it online, but it was pretty interesting. Having said that, I think it is unlikely in the photo in the FPP but it is definitely possible.
posted by TedW at 8:55 AM on October 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Widelux or any other "swing lens" cameras allow exactly that sort of manipulation. I was in a group photo from the US Capitol where a few of the students on the left side of the image show up on the right side of the group.

One person showing up twice in a long exposure is pretty easy to do with a normal camera. You can even do things like this self portrait with a long enough exposure.
posted by autopilot at 9:57 AM on October 30, 2010


I don't really see the people sitting at a table mentioned above, but it does look to me like there is a second image of the dude getting the shoeshine, just below him and for some reason just showing his upper torso. Perhaps he stood in that spot for a moment while waiting his turn with the bootblack.

Also, there is a current of opinion favoring this portrait, dated to 1837, and being the first human photographed. That this picture was genuinely earlier is not generally accepted, however. (This guy Huet is not so photogenic, either. But both this picture and the above-linked Robert Cornelius self-portrait show that photographers didn't generally provide combs and mirrors in those days.)
posted by beagle at 10:16 AM on October 30, 2010


The photo are fascinating, but the reporting is terrible. Both Krulwich at NPR and Nicholas Jackson at The Atlantic write as though Hokumburg uncovered a previously unknown photo. As many commenters point out, the 1838 Daguerre photo (er, daguerreotype) is very well known and has been a staple of history of photography classes for decades.

Agreed. People here in St. Louis are starting to repeat this story with the completely wrong impression—one of my coworkers actually told me yesterday that Hokumburg had "discovered" the photo.
posted by limeonaire at 11:24 AM on October 30, 2010


To me this is like that new Charlie Chaplin "Time Traveler" thing. You see what you want to see..
posted by Geoffk at 11:45 AM on October 30, 2010


And how auspicious that the first person to be photographed was so... photogenic.

When I first saw that photo, that was my immediate reaction. Cornelius was a fine-looking man. Too bad about that ridiculous Dickensian haircut -- nonetheless it's amazing to see someone actually dressed in a way that we associate with lithographs from Victorian periodicals.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:13 PM on October 30, 2010


Daguerre had to use long exposure times due to the insensitivity of his photographic medium. Today's film and digital sensors are far more sensitive, but neutral density filters can be used to reduce all light wavelengths entering the camera lens.

This lets you set long shutter speeds that can render automobile and pedestrian traffic invisible (or nearly so) in broad daylight. Photographer Emile Gregoire used a 10x ND filter to take a 15 second exposure of Paris' Arc de Triomphe, turning all traffic around the arch into faint blurs.

This technique can be useful for uncluttering architectural subjects: see Andrew Doran's long exposures of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Speed Skating Oval. However, if no humans or cars are immediately visible to lend scale, impressive structures may look more like models than monuments.
posted by cenoxo at 7:30 PM on October 30, 2010


Grandiosity always depends upon your personal point of view, of course: Today's Site From Space - Arc de Triomphe.
posted by cenoxo at 7:38 PM on October 30, 2010


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