This may be the first photograph of a human
This recently uncovered image, taken of Paris at some point in 1838 by Louis Daguerre, is the first photograph featuring a human being, that we know of.
The photo above carries with it a fairly incredible distinction, thanks to the small figure in the lower left corner. If you squint a little, you can see a man getting his shoes shined. That potentially makes this the first photograph of a human being still in existence.
According to HuffPo, the image was taken of Paris in 1838 by French photography pioneer Louis Daguerre. It’s not known precisely what the length of exposure was, but the consensus seems to be around 10 minutes. The streets might seem deserted, but in truth, the man is the only person that remained in place long enough to leave his impression. Everyone else – including the person shining the man’s shoes – was moving too fast to be captured.
“Length of exposure would have been variable depending on how the plate was prepared, the amount of light available and the lens in the camera,” Retronaut’s Amanda Uren says. “In order for most of the people and carriages to be blurred out, it must have been a matter of minutes. Ten minutes seems to be the consensus.”
That also explains why there aren’t more images of humans from that time. The first known successful camera images were documented in the mid-1820s, and are credited to Nicéphore Niépce. The earliest surviving photo is from 1826 or 1827 in Varennes, France. Soon after it was taken, Niépce began working with Daguerre, who went on to create the daguerreotype process. The photograph above is likely a test of that process.
Daguerre developed his first successful photograph in 1837. The process took another two years to catch on, and became the standard when scientist Francois Arago decided that photography was a “thing.” The daguerreotype process remained in place until the 1860s, when a new, less expensive and easier process replaced it.
The discovery of the photograph is thanks to Retronaut, an organization that “mines archives online and offline” for photographs of the past.
To be clear, this may not be the first photograph of a human ever taken, but it is the oldest known to exist. On one hand, it’s “just” a picture of a scene that was taken nearly two centuries ago. On the other, it’s history, not just for its glimpse into Paris in 1838, but for what it signifies is to come.