First photograph of a human, c.1838

This image is zoomable. See the icons in the bottom right-hand corner.

“Boulevard du Temple”, taken by Daguerre in late 1838 or early 1839 in Paris, was the first photograph of a person. The image shows a street, but because exposure time was over ten minutes, the traffic was moving too much to appear. The exception is the man at the bottom left, who stood still getting his boots polished long enough to show.”

- Wikipedia


Thank you to John Pollock.

18 comments to First photograph of a human, c.1838

  • Fascinating – especially the skyline. Do you think there’s also another sedentary human visible exactly to the right of the standing figure – she (?) is a stall-holder sat next to a barrow(?).

  • Sue

    As far as I can see there are TWo humans. One getting his shoes polished and one doing the polishing. The rich nob is more obvious but the show shine boy is clear too why are the workers always sidelined in these cases?

    Let’s make him the first human to be photographed and the man getting his shoes shined the second.

  • Thank you for taking the time to post these comments, Alun and Sue.

    Here is a close-up of the cart:


    and here is a close up of the shoe-shining:


    I agree with you, Sue, it is a great pity when people who are not materially wealthy or of high social status are sidelined by history, or by our interpretation of the past, and that is certainly not something that “How to be a Retronaut” would want to promote. I guess what is the case in this picture is that the shoe-shiner is partially obscured by the tree in front of them, whereas the other person can be seen very clearly.

  • Ray Martin

    Sadly, when I look at this picture in the largest mode, the man is somehow cropped out of it. It’s the same with three different browsers :(
    Some of these images are so wonderful that I like to keep them and it’s not made easy here. Perhaps a download link?
    Great site!

  • Hi Ray

    Thanks for making that point, and I am sorry that the image is cropped by the How to be a Retronaut lightbox.

    Although we don’t have an immediate solution, we will certainly look at how we can improve that feature, and in the meantime, where images are cropped, we will also post a link for downloading.

    So, here is the full Daguerre image. Click on the image to see it at full resolution – and uncropped.

    I do appreciate you taking the time to mention this


  • Ray Martin

    Yes, please ignore my silliness. I just realised that the image can be downloaded by right-clicking the one at the top of the page. D’Oh

  • Not at all – its extremely cool that you care enough to raise it

  • Robyn

    There might be yet another human in the photo! It looks as if a child is peeking out the top left window of the closest building on the right. What do you think?

  • Mikael

    I think you might be right there robyn.

  • Robyn

    What is your professional opinion, Chris? :-)

  • Thanks Robyn. There is certainly something holding that curtain back, and it just might be a child’s face – though it also looks a little like a chamber pot…

  • Sadly I think that’s a chamber pot or vase, I don’t think a child could hold that still for that long..

  • Robyn

    Hmm. Chamber pot is an interesting thought. Those big ears could actually be handles! I was also thinking that it might be a cat or small dog (it does look like there could be pointy ears sticking up out of the top).

  • George

    Another person?
    At the back of the building with the child/chamberpot, there appears to be someone entering the building.

  • Ran Hooper

    About 30 to 40 feet in front of the person getting their shoes shined, I clearly see a person sitting by the cart. I see a head and an arm, almost like someone sitting in a wheel chair.

  • Andy

    Haha, this may be a stretch, but what about on the left side of the street under the highest awning, it looks like theres a guy standing there. Thats the best description I can give.

    Most likely I’m just making a pattern out of randomness, though.

  • AnneM

    I see Andy’s figure – he’s leaning against the front of the building, one foot ahead of the other. This is the kind of thing I love about history – those were real people, not some sort of elevated “idea” that we can’t comprehend interacting with (Henry VIII, etc.) These were real people who probably did things that we still do today, maybe Shoeshine Man went into that building and reprimanded Chamberpot Child for lazing around out the window, maybe Awning Guy went next store to the coffee shop before heading to work, etc. Or maybe I’m just a sap. :)

Leave a Reply




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>