Shooting the Past

November 1, 2017

I live and work in Nice, less than 100 metres from the famous Promenade des Anglais where it seems life is recorded in realtime. Most walks along the 'Prom' end up on a tourist's i-phone memory card. On screens from Seattle to Shanghai, there we are in the background of someone's holiday selfie upload. Like many other places, cameras here in whatever shape or form are unavoidable. Google estimates 25 billion selfies are uploaded worldwide every year and youtube reports upwards of 300 minutes of new video footage appearing on their platform every minute. If you want to know how this visual overload started, take a look at the faded picture below. 'Boulevard du Temple' was taken by Louis Daguerre in Paris, 1838. Look closely and you'll see a boot polisher and his client as they unwittingly become the first human beings to ever appear in a photograph. The street would have been full of people but as the picture took seven minutes to expose, the two near stationary figures were the only ones who made it to the final composition. Its an incredible, haunting image, taken in the same year that transatlantic steamers made their first voyages, Zulus were battling 'Voortrekkers' in the Battle of Blood River and more than half a million people made use of the first railways to descend on London for Queen Victoria's coronation.  Perhaps it was one of these events that the two discussed long enough to claim their place in history.  Whatever it was , they are prisoners of time and unless Monsieur Daguerre took another, as yet undiscovered photograph later, they were not only the first but also the only people in the world to have their picture taken on that day in 1838. 

 

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