THIS SUNDAY, “Now & Then” blows out 40 candles, celebrating the nation’s (if not the world’s) longest-running column dedicated to repeat photography.
It all began on Jan. 17, 1982, when column founder Paul Dorpat published his first comparison, an exuberant parade along Fourth Avenue welcoming home World War I artillery soldiers in 1919.
After more than 2,000 columns and four decades, we think it’s apropos to express belated gratitude for a 184-year-old gift.
The story begins in 1838, when artist and inventor Louis Daguerre positioned a boxy device in the window of his Paris studio to capture the dance of light and shadow on the busy street below. For at least four minutes, he exposed the plate and instantly achieved a fistful of firsts:
● The first photo of a city.
● The first portrayal of people in a cityscape.
● The first shoeshine caught on camera.
At first glance, the Boulevard du Temple in central Paris seems curiously devoid of people, save for one gent standing relatively still and getting his shoes polished on the sidewalk. The many hundreds of passersby were assuredly moving too quickly to be snared by the long exposure.
The long row of four- and five-story buildings housed many well-attended theaters. Parisians nicknamed it the Boulevard du Crime after the immensely popular vice melodramas they presented.
Paris, however, was on the verge of one of the greatest transformations in its long history. In 1852, a nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte grandly proclaimed himself Emperor Napoleon III and envisioned a capital suitable for a French empire.
The narrow, medieval streets and alleys, beloved by many Parisians, were to be widened and straightened. Entire neighborhoods would be leveled while parks, grand avenues, plazas and vast public-works projects would be added. Beginning in 1853 and for decades to come, the City of Light became a construction zone.
The Boulevard du Crime, along with most of its theaters, was demolished in 1862, to the dismay of dramatic audiences, and replaced by the expanded plaza now known as Place de la République.
Today’s square is a popular gathering spot for Parisians young and old. It has hosted events from concerts to mass demonstrations. A bronze statue of Marianne, symbol of the French Republic, stands at its center, surrounded by figures representing Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.
Rights to Daguerre’s revolutionary invention, the daguerreotype process, were acquired by the French government in 1839 and offered unconditionally as a gift to humanity. Within months, daguerreotype cameras had spread throughout the world, recording images that we treasure — and, yes, repeat.