11 March 2012

Past Alive



This is one of the earliest known photographs of a human. A self portrait taken in 1839, it shows a young Robert Cornelius (1809-1893) standing outside his family’s lamp-making shop in Philadelphia. Cornelius was an American of Dutch descent whose knowledge of metallurgical chemistry was to help in perfecting the process of silver-plating, then employed in the production of daguerreotypes. It had previously been assumed that the time necessary for a photograph to be exposed was simply too long for portaiture to be considered. But, by making this striking image, Cornelius proved the concensus wrong and then went on to develop a chemical means of accelerating the process. […] This photograph was made 171 years ago, and yet Robert Cornelius looks as contemporary and ‘immediate’ as any young man you might happen to pass on the streets today. He might be in a fashion publicity shot, or some moody modern musician. But, the most poignant thing is that what you see is a real man - a man you could reach out and almost touch, a man you could talk to, or even desire. This daguerreotype did not only change the way we see photography now. It works some kind of alchemy. One glance and it drags us back into the past. It is bringing history to life.

Source: virtualvictorian

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