Local Blogger Rediscovers Earliest Known Photo of a Human Being

Nov 2, 2010 at 8:00 am

Last week, a local blogger known as the Hokumburg Goombah, and also as Gig Thurmond, awoke to, like Lord Byron, find himself famous. In blogger terms, this means "when we got home after running errands, visiting a sick friend, and getting dinner, and we checked the counter [yes, it has come to that, we are ashamed to admit], we discovered that we had received nearly a quarter-of-a-million hits in little over two hours!"

The reason for this surge in pageviews: Thurmond rediscovered the oldest known photograph of a human being and Robert Krulwich, an NPR correspondent, discovered Thurmond.

Here's the photo:

The photo is actually a daguerreotype, taken in 1838 by Louis Daguerre, who invented the form. It's a view of the Boulevard du Temple in Paris. Look closer and you can see the human, a guy with his foot propped on a box, getting his boots blacked:

Local Blogger Rediscovers Earliest Known Photo of a Human Being
image via

Writes Thurmond:

To achieve this image (one of his earliest attempts), [Daguerre] exposed a chemically treated metal plate for ten minutes. Others were walking or riding in carriages down that busy street that day, but because they moved, they didn't show up. Only this guy stood still long enough--maybe to have his boots shined--to leave an image.

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.

If you look even more closely, as Thurmond did, you might be able to detect other, fainter images on the boulevard.

Previously, sometime in September, Krulwich had posted a photo on the NPR website of a photo from 1848 of two men standing on the Cincinnati waterfront, which he posited was among the first photos taken of human beings. But Krulwich was pleased to be proven wrong, praising the Thurmond as "eagle-eyed" and calling his discovery "impressive."

In the middle of last week, a couple of days after the NPR item ran, Yahoo picked up the story. From there it spread and spread and spread. Writes Thurmond, "It would take us ten years to read all the emails and comments." Especially as some are in languages he can't even identify. (After more than a decade of Hebrew school, Daily RFT can affirm that this tweet is indeed in Hebrew, but we'll be damned if we can tell you what the Hebrew part means.)

Regular readership of The Hokumburg Goombah, which has lately spent a lot of time discussing politics, has increased.

But now Thurmond is ready to reveal his secret, the provenance of this wondrous photo.