In this era of self-aggrandizement, we're all a little obsessed with the selfie. It was the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year. We've got the “world's worst” selfie, the best off-world selfie, and a selfie snapped on Mars. But while "selfie" as a shorthand is relatively new, the selfie as an artistic expression has a much longer history.
In 1839, says the Public Domain Review, a young Robert Cornelius snapped the world's first selfie:
The image in question was taken in 1839 by an amateur chemist and photography enthusiast from Philadelphia named Robert Cornelius. Cornelius had set his camera up at the back of the family store in Philadelphia. He took the image by removing the lens cap and then running into frame where he sat for a minute before covering up the lens again. On the back he wrote “The first light Picture ever taken. 1839.”
Not a handy iPhone, Cornelius' self-portrait was captured using an early form of photography known as a Daguerreotype. PetaPixel:
Cornelius learned about the new medium while working at his father’s lamp shop, where he specialized in silver-plating, among other tasks. A client hired him to produce a silver plate for a daguerrotype, and Cornelius became curious about the process.
He worked on experiments to improve the process, and one of the first fruits of his research was his self-portrait, taken outside to ensure adequate light and with a “camera” that basically consisted of a box outfitted with a lens from an opera glass.
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