LIFE considers the phenomenal edifice through a single picture: Dmitri Kessel’s classic 1948 portrait of La Dame de Fer as seen on a winter’s day.
The popular French writer Guy de Maupassant (1850 – 1893) reportedly ate lunch in the Eiffel Tower’s restaurant every day for years — not because he loved the great iron monument but because, so the story goes, it was the only place in Paris where he could sit and not see the tower itself. Maupassant, like countless French artists and aestheticians of the late 19th century, despised Gustave Eiffel‘s creation, seeing it as a vulgar eyesore and a blight on their beloved Parisian skyline.
Whatever. For the rest of the world, the Eiffel Tower is and has long been one of the singular architectural emblems anywhere on earth: a formidable, graceful, soaring structure that connotes Paris as surely and as indelibly as the Empire State Building, Il Duomo, Hagia Sophia and other enduring landmarks signify their own great, respective cities.
Perhaps it’s the absence of a single, visible human form that lends Kessel’s photograph its timeless power.
Maybe it’s the ill-defined look of the structure, almost phantasmal as it looms in the Parisian fog, that somehow draws the viewer even deeper into the scene — as if, given enough time, the fog itself might clear and, even as we watch, the spire might grow more defined in the stark winter light.
Whatever the source of this one picture’s abiding appeal, the tower itself remains undimmed 125 years after awestruck crowds first encountered what was then, and remained for the next four decades, the tallest manmade structure on the planet.
Ben Cosgrove is the Editor of LIFE.com –
Foamy waves, agitated by European storm Ruzica, swell around the Tévennec lighthouse in Brittany, France.
Local lore complements this moody scene—the lighthouse is believed to be haunted.
The image does possess a phenomenal quality, according to Your Shot photographer Mathieu Rivrin:
“When we went there, the light was divine, bringing a touch of green to the magnificent Sea or what remains one of my favorite pictures the storm.”
The technology of its eponymous creator, Louis Daguerre, daguerreotypes were, relative to modern photography, slow. I
t took over ten minutes for a concoction involving silver halide and mercury (and a lens) to take the viewed scene and turn it into a photograph. Anything which moved out of the frame during this period would, by and large, be invisible in the finished product. For this reason, the early daugerreotypes — typically, streets of Paris (where Daugerre worked and lived) — lacked people, as they’d not stay still (or even know to) for the period necessary.
The first exception: the image above, of Paris’ Boulevard du Temple, taken in 1838. At the corner of the tree-lined street appears a man getting his shoes shined by a young man.
No one knows who the people depicted are, as at the time, the historic value of their identity was unappreciated.
The daguerreotype would be used for portraits in the future.
In fact, the first known photograph of Abraham Lincoln, seen here, was one.