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 life because at any moment something extraordinary can happen.
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