Daguerre, Boulevard du Tample, Paris, 1838
By Miryam C.
''Bonjour, old friend,'' I said, as I stepped into the manor, bearing the weight of my camera, hoping to get some response other than a blank stare and an open mouth.
''Louis!'' Aurora exclaimed, pleasantly surprised. I marveled at her calm demeanor. Aurora noticed my puzzled expression and sought to explain herself.
''I am now a mother of 6 children. The youngest is but 3 months old, yet the oldest is 5 and 10 years. I have learned to deal with many surprises!''
She did look different since last I saw her. Then, her hair was a rich brown. Now, it was faded with streaks of gray. I remember running my fingers through that hair years ago. Wrinkles disfigured that once youthful skin. She sat stiffly in her ruffled skirt, a lady of great esteem. I came out of my reverie to remember why I had come to see Aurora.
''Well, can you show me to the roof, si vous plait?'' I said.
''Anything for a childhood friend.'' She smiled, widely. Then, she is the same, I thought.
As I went up the stairs, Aurora and I conversed about Berlioz' brilliant new opera, ''Benvenuto Cellini.'' I told her all about my accidental discovery. ''Three years ago,'' I said, ''I put an exposed plate in the cupboard where I keep my chemicals and left it there for a few days. When I opened the cupboard to get something, the image had, um, developed, so to speak. I eventually figured out that this was due to the presence of mercury vapor from a thermometer that I broke and did not clean up, ahem.'' I put on an air, ''Due to this incident I, Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre, am able to make time stand still!'' I smiled at Aurora and she laughed. I sounded just like the mayor of Cormeilles, the town of our youth
She wanted to know why I came to her house. I said that my current home does not have a roof terrace and I wanted to get an image of a whole street. I remembered that when Aurora married, she moved into a tall, handsome manor set atop of a hill, so I looked for her.
On the roof, I set up my camera on its tripod.
''Louis? How long will this take?'' Aurora said. I wanted to say ''Forever, if you stay with me.'' Instead, I said, ''With my new system, it will only take half an hour.''
''Well, in that case, I have an errand to run. I must go to the boulangerie to get a baguette. Stay up here for a half an hour. After that, please show yourself the way out. I will not be back by then. It was… pleasant to see you again, Louis.'' She walked gracefully to the stairwell. I saw that my foolish boyhood dreams had unsettled Aurora. She wanted a sure future, which I could not supply. Well, at least I know that she is happy. Goodbye, Aurora. I realized that I might see her in the image of the street. This made me focus all of my thoughts on my camera.
From the roof, I could see most of the street. I looked through the opening of the camera and was transported. I felt as though I was looking at the entire world from afar. Everything was strangely faded, as if I was looking at it from behind a scrim. I put the silver plate I had prepared at home into the camera, and removed the lens cap. While I waited, I looked down at the people on the boulevard. I was enraptured by the hundreds of lives going on right at my feet. Everything was constant motion. I saw a mother struggling to keep her unruly children together. Street merchants' voices rose to my ears as a chorus of angels would. Smells of baking baguette wafted up to the rooftops. I saw a small, delicate figure bustling past the shoe-shiner. That must be Aurora! I thought.
As I sat in my shadowy room developing the image, I thought how this would be my one memory of Aurora. As I heated the liquid mercury in my alcohol lamp, I made sure that it was exactly 175 degrees Fahrenheit. I wanted this image to be perfect. I then put the undeveloped plate with the image in the mercury chamber. I would never sell this daguerreotype! I got out my best china tray and poured the hyposulfite of silver into the tray. Finally, I hardened the plate on a gilding stand.
After much waiting, it was dry. I ran to get open the shutters. Sunlight flooded into the room. I rushed to the image and held it up to the light. I stared at it for some time. None of the people in the boulevard appeared in the daguerreotype. I started to pace. I tried not to think of Aurora, but to think of a scientific reason for this. Then I thought Oh… The people must have been moving too swiftly to be reflecting the light.
I knew this must be a correct theory, but I began to think, thought after thought came racing into my mind, Where are the people? What are people? Do we serve a purpose? Are all people around us just our imaginations? Am I really here? What if someone could invent an exposure fast enough to capture moving people? What if we could create an exposure that was so fast, it could capture divine and unseen things, like God? Or would you have to keep your Camera Obscura out for all eternity to capture God? Will anyone ever know the answers to these questions? I looked at the picture again, more carefully. In front of a row of trees, were two figures! One was bending over and looking at the other's feet as if… as if, he was shining the other man's shoes! He and his customer must be the first two people ever captured in a still image! And, behind the shoe shine man? Isn't there a streak of light? An aurora?
baguette- French bread