First Post

Monday, October 25, 2021

The selfies of today are not the same as the first experiments with self-portraiture at the beginning of photography. The first selfie (referred to as a self-portrait at the time) has been credited to Robert Cornelius in 1839. Cornelius, credited as one of the American pioneers of photography produced a daguerreotype of himself. The pace was much slower at this time; he had to uncover the lens, run into the shot, hold his pose between three and fifteen minutes and then replace the lens cap again. Once the daguerreotype was processed he wrote, ‘The first light picture ever taken, 1839’ on the back. Cornelius went on to open a photography shop in Philadelphia, thought to be one of the first stores devoted to photography in the United States. After the portrait was taken the medium and subsequent subject matter took off. In 1914, Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia took a picture of herself in front of a mirror to send to a friend, becoming one of the first teenagers to take their own picture.

The first image taken in the same process as today, with the photographer holding the camera at arm’s length, was in December 1920. The five men who took the photo were the main photographers of the Byron Company, a photography studio founded in Manhattan in 1892 and still in business today. Another man took a photograph of the men documenting the momentous occasion. The image shows the five men standing on the roof of the Marceau Studio holding an antediluvian analog camera that was so heavy it required two of the men to hold it up. The photographs are part of 23,000 prints from the Byron Company that have been digitized as part of the Museum of the City of New York’s digital collection.

There have been many new inventions and improvements to photography that increased its proliferation into mainstream society. The availability of self-timers in the late 1880s allowed for an ease for creating self-portraits, since it gave five to ten seconds for the subject to position themselves in the shot. The launch of the portable Kodak Brownie Box camera in 1900 led to self-portraiture becoming a widespread technique. When instant cameras, such as the Polaroid became more affordable in the 1970s it encouraged photographers to take more self-portraits since the camera was very light, allowing it to be casually held at arms length and provided instant gratification. The proliferation of smartphones is responsible for the accessibility of cameras to the general public. The release of the Sony Ericsson Z1010 mobile phone in 2003 introduced the front-facing camera, which allowed for the easiest selfie-taking to date. In 2015, the Selfie Stick was invented, which allows for more of the background and additional people to be included in the composition.

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