Happy Birthday

Happy Birthday!!!!

Happy, Happy Birthday!!!!

In fact, Happy 224th Birthday, Louis!!!!!!

The Louis I refer to is Louis Daguerre – one of the founding fathers of photography and well- known artist in the Paris of his day. So famous was he in fact, that the French government considered him a gift to the world and his son was given a pension in recognition of his father’s contributions to the glory of the French Republic.

Daguerre was often seen around Paris with his “camera obscura,” a wooden box with a lens that projected the image he was looking at onto a frosted piece of glass. Many experiments later he perfected the process and the daguerreotype was born – each one a unique image on a sheet of silver-plated copper – most of which have sadly been lost to the world after a fire destroyed much of his early work in 1839.

While he wisely kept patents on his process – the truth is that he never innovated beyond his original invention. Much like the open platforms of today – he made it available to others who took it and ran – and innovated – for many years still calling the product daguerreotypes – and today we use our phones in homage to him…not really, but we should.

So why am I writing about Louis and his birthday?

Full disclosure – although I am a photography nut and have been since I learned to develop film and make prints back in the last century – and although I do have many books on photographic art and go to exhibits and have a friend who is a major collector – and although I have seen original daguerreotypes – I had no clue it was his birthday – worse, I had forgotten all about him.

It was Google who reminded me.

Not that I Googled him, mind you, but his birthday was the subject of Google’s home page doodle. Imagine that! The Mecca of all that is digital – paying homage to a guy who schlepped around a huge wooden box….

But what really struck me was that I had no clue who invented the digital camera. Not an inkling.

I knew Gutenberg and the printing press. I knew Marconi and Edison. Even David Sarnoff. Yet I had not an inkling about the digital camera. Worse, I had no curiosity.

But now I did. And here is what I found:

The first digital camera was built in 1975 by Steven Sasson, who was an engineer at Eastman Kodak. However, the camera was not very practical. The camera recorded black-and-white images on a cassette tape, had a resolution of just 0.01 megapixels and took about 23 seconds to capture an image.

The parallels to Daguerre were astounding. The process, its clunkiness, its evolution – it took another 15 years to make it commercial – were every bit the same story.

Yet we remember Louis – Google remembered Louis!!!! And I’m afraid we don’t do much to celebrate Steve.

Now one reason could be that we celebrate true invention, and evolution is an expected yawn. Or that in the age of digital, we are no longer wowed by what must have seemed like magic 224 years ago. Or perhaps we are just so jaded that we no longer get excited about much beyond the latest release of Angry Birds. Or maybe…just maybe…because we recognize that true art and/or human DNA knows what will be remembered.

That got me thinking and I found this thought. Listen:

“Long after our monuments of brick and stone, vitriol, plastic and concrete have vanished, our words, our art, our legends and our myths will remain as a legacy.” Harry J. Boyle

Think about it. We remember Edison for the phonograph – but how many of you remember who invented the Walkman? Or beyond Steve Jobs (an artist), who gets credit for the iPod?

I would add digital to the list of what will vanish – it will – one day it will be replaced with something better – a new magic –  but Louis Daguerre will still be remembered – as will Bill Gates and Steve Jobs – not because they innovated – but because they created – hence, artists.

Thank you Google!!! Keep it up and you will be one of those legends…..

What do you think?

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