Yesterday I wrote an article on the first photograph of a human which I had enhanced. After reading that others didn’t have the tools to enhance the photograph, I decided to make use of my architectural rendering and image editing skills to see if there was anything else hidden. I think that there’s a deeper message we should think about. The Boulevard du Temple by Daguerre article signifies how this photograph inadvertently shaped our entire world view till this very day.
I don’t think there are too many single photos which can tell such a grand story. We have the first Civil War photographs, the use of propaganda during the first and second World Wars, Pearl Harbor, the Holocaust, the aftermath of nuclear weapons, JFK’s assassination, the Vietnam War, the moon landing, and 911. I’m certain that there are other important examples of how photography impacted our world which escapes me at this moment, but all of that still comes back down to this one single image of a human being either operating a water pump, or getting his shoes shined.
Once we start to investigate this photograph by Daguerre, most of our first inclinations is to look even further within the photo to see what else we can discover. We ask ourselves, is it just one human standing there or were there multiple people that were captured in this fairly innocuous historical moment? What else is there to see – is there a cat in the window? Are those trees or people standing on the opposite side of the road? Where are the horses and carriages? What time of day is it and what season? What direction is he facing when he took this? All of this manages to happen within a single, noisy and scratched image of a Paris boulevard.
If it resembled more of a modern photograph, would we all be equally interested? It’s the early state of this image in of itself which brings up these relevant questions and gets us to start thinking about things.
The Boulevard du Temple doesn’t look like much at first glance. We realize there must be some historical importance. But in a much deeper sense, we are looking at one of the first, beautiful photographs of everyday life and society.
In today’s modern era, I would argue that most people take photography for granted. It’s become such a common part of our culture, from the first newspapers to scans, from television to even the Internet. A lot of us even have cameras on our cell phones – instantly, we can take a picture and the rest of the world can see it in near real-time. We operate these devices and really don’t appreciate the technological miracle we hold in our hands. The significance of this first photograph of a human is that has given rise to a deeper understanding of the human condition – it’s taught us about war, medicine, politics, news, culture, technology, and never ceases to entertain us. But without people, photography might have been somewhat pointless. It is this single act of capturing a person which has brought us to where we are today. As the old proverb says, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” In this case, I don’t think anything else could be more telling.