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June 14, 2009

'only a single figure is visible...'


"... only a single figure is visible: a man apparently having his boots shined. He is standing still while all of the pedestrian and street traffic moving around him fails to register on the plate because of the lengthy exposure time." — Robert Silberman, from the opening paragraph of his essay "Between Heaven and Earth: The Impact Photographs of Stan Gaz" (in Gaz's extraordinary new book, "Sites of Impact: Meteorite Craters Around the World"; Princeton Architectural Press; New York; 2009).

As I thought about the sentence above — a description of one of Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre's (1787–1851) earliest extant photographs (top), showing a Parisian boulevard as viewed from an elevated vantage point — it occurred to me that the absence of other figures due to the necessarily prolonged exposure time doesn't mean others weren't in the frame at the same time as the single man who, having his boots shined, was therefore relatively stationary but, rather, that their presence simply didn't register on the photograph.

If sufficient computer power were brought to bear on this photograph, along with software capable of "rewinding" what's there, it seems to me it should be possible to extract from this picture a movie that, in real time, would last as long as the exposure did.

Watching that film, "... all of the pedestrian and street traffic moving around him..." would as if by magic appear as it was seen through the lens a century and a half ago.

The past can — and will — be recaptured, not just in words but in sight and sound, once the static recorded scenes of the past submit to the algorithms and subroutines of the future.

The 1838 photograph up top is Daguerre's "Boulevard du Temple, Paris," featuring possibly the first person ever photographed (detail



June 14, 2009 at 05:01 PM | Permalink


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