Yesterday marked the 177th Birthday of Photography. It is strange to think that something like photography, that seems so firmly anchored in our modern lives, has been around for almost 200 years. It is strange to think that every visual we are confronted with every day on our computers, phones and televisions is somehow connected to this very first photograph that Louis Daguerre took in 1838 of a Boulevard in Paris.
I remember when I first looked at this photograph, I felt a wave of melancholy rush over me, not only because I do have a tendency to get a bit nostalgic whenever I see my beloved Paris but I also realized in that moment that I am looking at something that is no longer there. This street with all its buildings, the typically French chimneys on top, the trees that were planted alongside this boulevard, the shops next to the sidewalks with their windows to display their goods – all of this has vanished since then. Louis Daguerre took this Daguerreotype (which was the forerunner of the photograph) in 1838 of Boulevard de Temple, a busy area that only some 20 years later was completely remodeled under the architectural supervision of Baron Haussmann. The street appears empty because the exposure lasted too long to capture moving traffic. You can only glimpse some shadows of what could have been a carriage. Except for the person in the bottom left quarter of the frame who is getting his shoes shined by another.
When I look at this photograph today, I still think about what Louis Daguerre must have felt, looking out on his city. I am thinking about what people’s lives looked like back then, what they thought about, what they felt like when they walked down the street, what they smelled of, who they loved and how they died. I am looking at this photo and I feel connected to so many more things than what I can see. I feel connected to history, to mankind, and to the human spirit.
The true magic of photography is not to just show us a part of the world that might no longer exist but to save a moment in time and make you feel connected to it, even if that photo is 178 years old.