The earliest known photograph to show a person was published online this week
It was taken in Paris, France, in 1838 by Louis Daguerre
The image shows a man getting his boots cleaned on the sidewalk
At first glance, it doesn’t seem that remarkable: An old black-and-white scene of a strangely deserted city, smudged in places by some primitive photographic process.
But this image, taken in Paris, France, in 1838, is believed to be the earliest known photograph featuring a person.
Look in the photo’s lower left corner and you’ll see a man getting his boots cleaned on the sidewalk. The boot-cleaner is there too, although he is harder to spot.
The image has been posted online before, but it gained a higher profile after news site Mashable published a full-page version on Wednesday in partnership with Retronaut, a website that archives photos from the past.
It was taken by Louis Daguerre, the French photographer famous for pioneering the daguerreotype, an early type of photo produced on a silver plate or a silver-covered copper plate.
According to Retronaut’s Amanda Uren, the exposure time for the image was around seven minutes. The street appears deserted because while the two human figures were relatively still, other pedestrians and horse-drawn carriages were moving too fast to register on the plate.
The photo shows the Boulevard du Temple, a then-fashionable area of shops, cafés and theaters.
The two people on the sidewalk are the most recognizable human figures in the photo, although Uren points out that a detailed examination reveals other possible people on a bench and in a window of the building in the foreground.
The image is not close to being the earliest known surviving photograph, though. That distinction belongs to a photo by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, one of Daguerre’s partners, who used a crude camera to capture the view from a window at his French estate in 1826 or 1827.
Today, when almost everyone has a phone camera in their pocket and more than 350 million photos are uploaded to Facebook every day, Daguerre’s milestone seems quaint. In 2014, he might have just snapped a selfie.