Imagine it’s 1838. You live in one of the busiest cities in the world – Paris – 50 years before the Eiffel Tower was added to the skyline. As every day on your way to work you are walking down the street which is buzzing with gazillions of people and horse carriages.
For you it it’s just another day – nothing special – like your whole life. The only thing that you might later remember from that day is that annoying moment when you stepped into that big pile of horse sh*t and you had to spend your lunch money on getting your shoes polished.
But in no way did you know that on that day in that very moment you became part of history – probably in one of the most boring ways anyone could ever become part of history.
As it happened on the other side of the road a photographer named Louis Daguerre had set up his camera to take a photograph – a brand new invention you did not even knew existed – because pretty much no one on the planet knew it existed. And out of pure coincidence Daguerre had aimed his lens at the very street corner you were getting your shoes polished. And out of another pure streak of total randomness he started the 10 minute exposure at the very moment your shoe cleaner started polishing away.
And because of the fact that everything that moves during such a long exposure is getting totally washed out of the photograph and you and the shoe polisher happened to be the only static objects other than trees and houses during the whole time of the photographing process you and the polisher ended up being the first human beings ever to have been photographed.
Maybe that’s how it happened – probably not. But looking at this historic image my imagination drifts of into this very moment and makes me wonder who was that person getting his shoes polished and thus becoming part of photographic history? No other human was ever caught on camera before and captured for eternity that way. But of course we will never know who he or the shoe polisher were. Both faces are too blurred to be recognised – and after all they were just two of probably hundreds of people roaming the street in that moment. So just like on most of the millions of street photographs that would follow the people in it became ghostlike figures of the past – figures that you can create a whole world around in your head. Who were they – were did they come from, why were they there at that moment and where were they going to?
For me this mysterious side of street photography adds to the magic of it and makes it even more powerful to me.
Here is a link to the photograph which allows you to zoom in on every detail of the image.