Boulevard du Temple”, Daguerre, 1838

“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

30 Responses

  1. Alun Edwards

    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(?).

  2. 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?

    • Avatar of Simon

      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.

      • brad

        Is it just me or when you zoom in on the pic there is a young boy pushing the curtain to9 the side and looking out of the top left window in the main building ?

  3. jufjo

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

  4. 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!

  5. Avatar of Simon

    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


  6. 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

  7. 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?

  8. Avatar of Simon

    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…

  9. 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).

  10. George

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

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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. :)

  14. Jim

    does no-one think the shape in the bottom left window looks humanoid? maybe someone sitting against the wall?

  15. Buffy

    There is also a what appears to be a child sitting down on the ground in the Front off the buildings all the way on the left between buildings 3 and 4. If you close in 3 clicks you can see he is squatting on the ground with his chin on his knees.

  16. Mel

    I think that’s a dog peeking through the curtains. Yay for the pooch!

  17. John R.

    These additional people that are being seen … our brains are hardwired to interpret shapes that resemble human features as being human. It’s not impossible that they’re actually people, but my guess is that we’re more likely having a “Face On Mars” (Google it) experience. ;-)

  18. Fred S

    Question: Why aren’t the street and sidewalks more blurred in the photo? I think if there was horse/wagon and pedestrian traffic, the streets and sidewalks would be more blurry with a ten minute exposure. At what time of day do you think the photo was taken? This might be a photo taken in the early morning on a Sunday. Almost seems like that neighborhood in Paris was deserted…

    • DavidWP

      Our film today is much “faster” and would record blurs from most any object in motion as you suggest. Daguerre’s plates back then, however, were very, very slow….so slow that a constantly moving object/person would fail to record at all.

      I suspect there was quite a bit of activity, but only this boot shine customer (who stood still and was clearly recorded) and a few others that paused briefly (the shadowy partial figures mentioned above)were captured.

      Agree it may have been a relatively quiet time–seems odd to me there are no horses/wagons/buggies tied along the curb and “still enough” to make this wonderful photograph.

  19. DavidWP

    Second floor of the bldg, window on the right with the white triangular reflection — two men’e faces clearly seen there. The upper left pane has the eyes, nose and dark goatee of someone. The right pane (immediatley against the white triangular reflection) is a very clear hairline, eyes, nose and white goatee of another. The faces are an appropriate height and size for two adults watching the photographer.

    The key to being in this photo is the length of time someone is stationary…..the “rich man” getting a boot shine was still for a longer period than the worker moving about doing the task. The men in the window likely stood still there for a bit observing the curious contraption used by the photographer.

  20. Duncan

    This might not have been the first photograph of a human. “Icons of photography – the 19th century” (ISBN 3-7913-2771-2) presents this image, dated as spring 1839, and notes that Daguerre took a portrait of a man “as early as 1837″. Still… any Daguerreotype is a marvellous document, and any Daguerreotype from that era is an absolute treasure. It’s a pity they didn’t have the benefit of modern lenses to complement that exquisite technology – although the image quality in this looks pretty good.


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