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Is this one of the first photos of a person?

Posted by Jeff on October 30, 2010 at 3:47 PM

An extreme close-up of this Cincinnati riverfront scene yields an intriguing pair of figures.

 

 

 

 

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Wed Oct 27, 2:49 pm ET

Very early photographic images of humans discovered

By Brett Michael Dykes

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Email Print..By Brett Michael Dykes brett Michael Dykes – Wed Oct 27, 2:49 pm ET

In the steady barrage of images that make up the digital age, it's almost impossible to fathom a time when photographs of people were nonexistent. But rest assured, kids, that such a time did exist -- and it really wasn't that long ago in the grand scheme of things.

So the recent discovery of what appears to be two men near the river's edge in a photo of Cincinnati taken in 1848 is kind of a big deal among photography historians.

As reported by NPR's Robert Krulwich last month, the photo was taken by Charles Fontayne and William Porter -- who were standing on the other side of the Ohio River -- on Sunday, September 24th, 1848, 162 years prior to Krulwich's post about it. The photo is what's known as a daguerreotype -- an image developed via an early photographic process developed in France. When zooming in on the photo, Krulwich noticed what appeared to be two human figures. You can see them in a close-up image below:

A reader of Krulwich's blog took the photo and "lightened it up a bit and messed with the contrast a little" and posted a clearer version of it on his own blog. He thinks that "the man on the left is standing behind the wooden beam wall (wharf? dock?) with his left leg up on the wall and his left hand resting on his knee, while the man on the right is standing on top of that wall."

[Related: Vintage photos of 'ghosts']

In case you're wondering if this is the earliest photograph taken of a human -- as Krulwich himself did in a recent headline -- well, it's not. The credit for photographing a human for the first time is generally given to Louis Daguerre, the inventor of the daguerreotype process. In an 1838 photo he took of Paris, Daguerre caught an image of a man who appears to be getting his shoes or boots shined at a street corner. You can see the figure -- together with that of the shoeshiner -- in the bottom left of the image here.

Daguerre's process involved exposing a chemically treated metal plate for several minutes. If someone or something was moving within the frame, it wouldn't show up in a daguerreotype photo. But since this person remained relatively stationary as the image was captured, he showed up in the picture. The anonymous Parisian thus gets credit for being the first person ever to have his picture taken.

We wonder what he'd think about Facebook.

[Incredible photos: Prize-winning artist adds images of people to buildings]

(Cincinnati waterfront daguerreotype source: University of Rochester/Cincinnati Public Library and the George Eastman House Museum of Photography and Film. Additional photos via NPR, Boing Boing and the Hokumburg Goombah blog)

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