Urbanography: The First Photo of Man?

Is it a bird? A plane? Big Foot? It’s none of those. However, it might just be the first photo of humans in existence. It all started after photos of Cincinnati along the Ohio River were discovered and analyzed. The photos themselves were intriguing, but now question has arisen over whether or not this one photo is a first of its kind: the first photo of humans in existence. Is it?

Robert Krulwich, an NPR correspondant, was on to something:

This is Cincinnati on Sunday, September 24th, 1848—162 years ago. The picture, a daguerreotype taken by Charles Fontayne and William Porter (who were standing on the other side of the Ohio River), is so fantastically sharp you can-with your mouse – step right onto the streets, onto the riverboats, peek through windows, explore rooftops as if you had slipped into the 1840’s with a pass key.

However, it turns out that shortly after posting this photo, Gig Thurmond did some digging of his own and found another Daguerreotype, which is a type of photographic process, of his own. The photo was actually taken by the creator of the Daguerreotype process, Louis Daguerre, in 1838 of the Boulevard du Temple in Paris, France.

It is now the first known photo of a human.

This photographic technique required subjects to remain still in order to be rendered correctly in the photo. Getting people to stand still in a thriving city at that time might not have been too easy. This is part of the reason why it is so hard to confirm photos of humans. However, this appears to be the real deal:

Other primitive forms of photography had preceded this picture by over a decade. But this anonymous shadowy man is the first human being to ever have his picture taken. There is also the very faint image of the bootblack bent over his work.

Odds are neither of them ever knew they were making history that day.

Now that’s cool!

Written by James Mowery

James Mowery is a passionate technology journalist and entrepreneur who has written for various top-tier publications like Mashable and CMSWire. Follow him on Twitter: @JMowery.

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  • Amazing – How far we have come with technology…. The basic techniques in photography are still practiced today. Loved the article, James.



  • Kal

    The first image looks like the gentleman is on one knee and proposing marriage. If that is true, what a great first image to capture.

    • Daniel

      I was told in my Photo History class the man is getting his shoe shined. He’s in focus and visible because he’s standing still during the shine. That’s why he’s the only person who appears present in the scene. Everyone else is walking and moving.

  • JingFow

    Wow that is jsut too cool. Seems like yesterday.


  • Elizabeth Swigar

    This is just amazing. What an incredible find.

  • Anyone who’s completed their first year in an Arts Degree should have already known this.

  • bbear

    Right, Daniel. I saw an interesting gallery in a photo mag years ago of the interiors of New York City subway stations that used the same idea: slow film (probably Kodachrome), a small lens aperture, and long exposures. As a result, the stations appeared entirely deserted; as you say, people were walking and moving, so they weren’t in one place long enough to register.

  • Paulo

    Anyone with the slightest interest in Photography knows that shoe shining picture, even though it isn’t the first Photograph (Nicéphore Niépce has that privilege), is the first human portrait.

    So let me get this strait… this is a post saying that someone thought the the first photograph of a human being was made by an American in America, even though Photography was developed in France and England (Fox Talbot) 10 years earlier, and then, after he researched a bit (not much) he found that it wasn’t true???

    What a shocker, the ignorance and presumption of people don’t cease to amaze me…

  • WRONG!

    Davinci was the first to be photographed

    • Paulo

      Ok gus Gamer, tell me then when was it taken… and was it intentional?

  • The first image of man will always be a mirror image of cosmic micro wave nature made idol – universal figure complex building heart center temple house body of manhood in air form sex symbol image of glorious spiritual head being Alien creature atmospheric beast.

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