Is This Historic Photo Massively Underrated?

In 1839, Louis Daguerre captured his seminal image: Boulevard du Temple, a 5 x 6 inch plate shot from his studio window. It is famed for being the first image to feature the human form, but should it also be regarded as a masterpiece of photographic composition?

Jason Kummerfeldt explains why this iconic photograph deserves to be recognized not simply for its historical significance and technological accomplishment, but also for its merits as a work of art. If you need further proof of the importance of light, consider that Daguerre took two images: one in the morning and one at midday. In possibly the earliest demonstration of how the time of day can transform the quality of light in an image, the morning image feels far more dramatic and conveys a sense of depth, while the midday image feels flat and less atmospheric.

The fact that one of these images became iconic while the other is largely forgotten is, I would argue, an indication that while Daguerre’s studio window offered a fortunate view, luck was only a small part of what made this a successful image. As a young man, Daguerre was an apprentice to panorama painter Pierre Provost, which would have given him a strong understanding of how light can shape a scene, not to mention the basics of composition.

Should this image get more recognition for its artistic merit?

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4 Comments
Marty Levenson's picture

The more important question is: "Is the grainydays YouTube Channel Massively Underrated?" Great videos!

Deleted Account's picture

+1

William Schleuse's picture

"As a young man, Daguerre was an apprentice to panorama painter Pierre Provost, which would have given him a strong understanding of how light can shape a scene, not to mention the basics of composition."

A little more history: Daguerre was not just an apprentice, he was a full-fledged scenery painter, and what's more, an entrepreneur who eventually had a well-known and successful light-show entertainment venue in Paris called the Diorama, and all this before he invented the Daguerreotype process--and all this forty years before the electric light was invented! So yeah, he understood light!

Jim Doughty's picture

Pedant alert: There are three ways to approach this.

#1: You speak French and know it's pronounced "da-GAIR," with no "ay" sound at the end. Cool.
#2: You don't speak French and don't know. That's cool too. There's no law that says you need to.
#3: You don't speak French but hey, who cares? Wing it! French has a lot of "ay" sounds, right?

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a5/Pronunciation_of_Lou...

End pedant alert. I like your insights on this - I've always found that picture captivating for more than its historical significance, and you've helped articulate why. Worth noting that if he'd had a modern shutter speed, the composition might have turned out *less* interesting, because instead of a solitary figure who stood still for ten minutes, we'd have a street full of people and carriages frozen in their motion.