January 2


Two entries today, both conjoining light with space, or relatively so anyway...


The year is 1839.

Louis Daguerre is taking the first ever
photograph of the moon
and I am guessing that he chose today
because the moon was full.

To what extent is this lunology?
To what extent a cameraman's need
for something suitable to photograph?

He will need to leave the shutter open
for an immensely long time –
even a modern camera will need
up to ten minutes –
during which the appearance of circularity
at the edges of the moon’s disc
will reveal its illusoriness;
but the quality of the recorded image
will re-blur it.

What will he see,
through the sophisticated eye
of so primitive an apparatus?

No shadows,
but just a medley of bright or dark markings.

Just left of centre, the moon's iris,
shining back at him;
will he know that it is named
after that other luminary, Nicholas Copernicus?

Most probably not.
He is a man of ideas and technologies,
who has invented a new machine,
and needs proof of its virtues
in order to secure financial backing
and an enthusiastic market.

The names of the grey patches mean nothing to him,
provided their image is distinct.

He has no notion that men will see this photograph,
and dream of walking on its surface.

He has no means of knowing that Jose Arcadio Buendia
will be driven mad by this infernal instrument,
believing it has the magic power
to render proof of God

He cannot conceive that one day,
more than a century and a half later,
staring at a much better lunar map
provided by the men aboard Apollo 17
I will look up from my desk
towards the full moon engravured in my window
and chart the medley of bright markings
that are this poem

Photographs (for Louis Daguerre) is published in "Welcome To My World", TheArgamanPress, 2014

Daguerre belongs in my list of "Sherpa Tenzings" - the ones who really achieved whatever it was, but someone else stole the credit - for which see July 24. I am trying not to make this just a random encyclopedia of dates and facts. Like any Hall of Fame, or of Infamy, this is an institution dedicated unashamedly to the establishment of an élite, and those permitted entry must first justify that award.

Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre, born November 18, 1787, is hereby awarded honorary membership, and no further justification is required than his "Still Life" of 1837 (Collection de la Société Française de Photographie, Paris), made ten years after he discovered that exposing an iodised silver plate to fumes of mercury and salt would result in the creation of a permanent, or at least an enduring image.

However Daguerre was not the first photographer. Joseph
Nicéphore Niépce had produced something primordially photographic a decade earlier, but he had needed upwards of eight hours exposure time to fix an image, where Daguerre's method needed less than thirty minutes. Nevertheless, credit for the invention of photography should go to "Sherpa" Niépce, while Daguerre plays Sir Edmund Hillary.

"Still Life" by Louis Daguerre


The world's first traffic lights, a revolving lantern with red and green signals, controlled by a gas-powered, manually operated lever, were set up in 1868 in Parliament Square, Westminster, to ensure that MPs could get to late-night sittings unimpeded by the rush-hour traffic of carriages and drunks. Unfortunately the gas was volatile, and on January 2nd 1869, less than a month after they came into use, the duty policeman took the brunt of the explosion and the device turned itself into scrap. The first electric traffic lights went on at the junction of Euclid Avenue and 105th Street, in Cleveland, Ohio, on August 5th 1914 (is there a known link between Euclid and the number 105? there must be somewhere*); the first in England were at the junction of St James’ Street and Piccadilly, on August 3rd 1926.

Yes, indeed there is. Proposition 105 states that “A straight line commensurable with a minor straight line is minor.” Which means what? No idea - but if you understand Maths (or Math, if you’re American), this hyperlink will explain it all: click here

Amber pages

Today is also the day, in 1521, on which Martin Luther was banned by the Pope

on which, in 1905, the composer Michael Tippett was born

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