National Geographic : 1961 May
COURTESY GEORGE EASTMAN HOUSE First Known Photograph of a Living Person: a Study by Daguerre in 1839 A Parisian has paused for a shoeshine, unaware his picture is being taken. From a window, Louis Daguerre aimed his camera down the Boulevard du Temple. Because exposure took several minutes, moving objects made no impression on his silvered plate. Daguerre's remarkable process created a powerful rival to the painter. horse gallops or a man jumps. Degas, for example, learned much from action photo graphs of ballet dancers and race horses. By and large, artists took the measure of their adversary and divided up the market accordingly. Obviously, the portrait paint er's job. was jeopardized. Even worse' was the plight of the reporter-artist, who sketched contemporary events on the scene or from lurid eyewitness accounts. On the other hand, daguerreotypes were colorless. Despite ingenious efforts to add the third dimension (do you remember the stereopticon, the indispensable Sunday after noon entertainment in Victorian parlors?), the images appeared flat as pancakes. Perhaps the most important effect of pho tography was to make both artists and the public realize that nature does not always consist of carefully posed groups seen at eye 666 level, as in Delacroix's painting of Columbus (page 678). One could show only a part of figures and objects, as Toulouse-Lautrec has done in "Quadrille at the Moulin Rouge" (page 683), and imagination would fill in the rest. One could show them from below, behind, or above, as Pissarro has done in his "Boulevard des Italiens" (page 668), or catch them in momentary, casual poses, as Degas with his "Before the Ballet" (page 685). The scope and meaning of visual reality was ex panded and enriched. As always in the history of art, when dis coveries are made, artists search the past to see if others have explored the ground be fore. Mid-19th-century Parisians reacted with delight and surprise when they first looked seriously at Japanese wood-block prints and found that the "snap-shot" view had been used for centuries.