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Subrosa poses.

April 5th, 2009 by Colin Rafferty

Coincidence as history

Coincidence as history

Look carefully at this photo (Paris, 1838).  In the bottom left corner, you’ll see a human figure–a man with one leg lifted, getting his shoe shined.

He is the first human being ever to be photographed.

At this time–171 years ago–photography was only able to capture still life.  Landscapes such as the Parisian skyline were popular, but the ten-minute exposure time made it impossible to capture humans.  They just moved too much.   But this fellow–about whom we know literally nothing–held still for 600 seconds in just about the same pose, and entered history.

Photography has shifted dramatically in the last few years, even down to the way we hold a camera (no longer up to our eye).  How has it affected us as viewers of the world?  How, in an age of Photoshop, does the adage “the camera doesn’t lie” still hold true?

Let’s start with Alexander Rodchenko’s 1928 essay “The Paths of Modern Poetry.”  And then let’s go somewhere else with it.

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