I stumbled across this site via NPR and found a fascinating photo. The site is called The Hokumburg Goombah and had posted this photograph claiming that it’s the first ever photograph taken of a human being.
The photo process is a Daguerreotype and was taken by the inventor of the process, Louis Daguerre, in 1838 in Paris.
The image in a Daguerreotype is formed by the amalgam, or alloy, of mercury and silver. Mercury vapor from a pool of heated mercury is used to develop the plate that consists of a copper plate with a thin coating of silver rolled in contact that has previously been sensitised to light with iodine vapour so as to form silver iodide crystals on the silver surface of the plate. It also requires an extremely long exposure which explains why no other people or carriages appear in the photo. It seems that the man captured must have stayed in one place for a relatively long time, some theorize it looks as if he’s getting his shoes shined.
A commenter on the original post did some fantastic work colorizing the photo which makes some of the details a little more clear.
What makes this story even more interesting is that The Hokumburg Goombah posted this photo in response to a series of Daguerreotypes that NPR posted dating from 1948. The Goombah did his homework and found a human photograph pre-dating those by a decade.
The ironic thing is that the man in the photograph almost surely never new he was being immortalized on film for the very first time in human history and we will likely never know the identity of the very first human being ever photographed.