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For its 40th anniversary, “Now & Then” celebrates the dawn of photography

THIS SUNDAY, “Now & Then” blows out 40 candles, celebrating the longest-running chronicle in the country (if not the world) dedicated to repeated photography.

It all started on January 17, 1982, when column founder Paul Dorpat published his first comparison, an exuberant parade along Fourth Avenue welcoming World War I artillery soldiers in 1919.

After more than 2,000 columns and four decades, we think it’s appropriate to express belated gratitude for a 184-year-old gift.

The story begins in 1838, when artist and inventor Louis Daguerre placed a square device in the window of his Paris studio to capture the dance of light and shadow on the bustling street below. For at least four minutes, he exposed the plate and instantly achieved a handful of firsts:

● The first photo of a city.
● The first representation of people in an urban landscape.
● The first shoe polish photographed.

At first glance, the Boulevard du Temple in central Paris seems oddly devoid of people except for one man who stands relatively still and shines his shoes on the sidewalk. The several hundred passers-by were certainly moving too fast to be trapped by the long exposure.

The long row of four- and five-story buildings housed many well-attended theaters. Parisians nicknamed it the Boulevard du Crime after the immensely popular vice melodramas they presented.

Paris, however, was about to experience one of the greatest transformations in its long history. In 1852, a nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte proclaimed himself Emperor Napoleon III and imagined a capital suitable for a French empire.

The narrow, medieval streets and alleys, dear to many Parisians, needed to be widened and straightened. Whole neighborhoods would be leveled while parks, wide avenues, plazas and vast public works projects would be added. From 1853 and for decades to come, the City of Light became a construction zone.

Boulevard du Crime, along with most of its theatres, was demolished in 1862, much to the chagrin of dramatic audiences, and replaced by the enlarged square now known as Place de la République.

Today’s square is a popular gathering place for Parisians young and old. It has hosted events ranging from concerts to mass demonstrations. A bronze statue of Marianne, symbol of the French Republic, stands in its center, surrounded by figures representing Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.

The rights to Daguerre’s revolutionary invention, the daguerreotype process, were acquired by the French government in 1839 and offered unconditionally as a gift to mankind. Within months, daguerreotype cameras have spread around the world, recording images we cherish – and, yes, repeat.