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An 1840s Road Trip, Captured on Lustrous Silver

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An 1840s Road Trip, Captured on Lustrous Silver


Can you even remember a time before Google Image Search and Street View, before we all had instant access to far-flung sites like the Parthenon, the Dome of the Rock, a stretch of empty highway in the Australian outback? The whole inhabited world has now been pictured and cataloged, and we have so fully embraced the archive that it feels like an extension of our collective mind. In the infinite scroll of the search results page you can forget that once not every place was visible. Someone, in every place, had to take the first photograph.

In dozens of cases, that first photographer was Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey (1804-1892), a Frenchman of astonishing artistic ambition and considerable tech savvy. In 1842, three years after his countryman Louis Daguerre unveiled the world’s first practical camera, Girault set out on an epic adventure across Europe and into the Middle East, lugging custom photographic equipment that weighed more than a hundred pounds. He returned with over a thousand photographic plates, including the first surviving daguerreotypes made in Greece, Egypt, Anatolia, Palestine and Syria.

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