The World’s First Selfie!

 
Photograph/Robert Cornelius; Image Courtesy: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington DC

Photograph/Robert Cornelius; Image Courtesy: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington DC

This story was originally published in September 2011.

This photograph is an interesting landmark in the history of portraiture for a number of reasons. Not only is it the first-ever self portrait, it is also the first photograph that showed a human face clearly. The early photographs needed extremely long exposures, so getting an identifiable sharp face in a photograph was quite a task in themselves. The image is a daguerreotype created by Robert Cornelius, an American photography pioneer. Born in 1809 to Dutch immigrants, he was more interested in chemistry than he was in photography. Cornelius’ interest in the field of photography was stirred only when he started working for his father.

Around this time, American inventor Joseph Saxton approached Robert, asking him to create a silver plate for his daguerreotype of Central High School which is situated in Philadelphia, USA. Having sufficient knowledge about chemistry and metallurgy, Robert took the help of Paul Beck Goddard, a photographer and a physician to perfect the daguerreotype.

He finally made this daguerreotype in October 1839, right outside his family store. It shows Robert standing on the right side of the frame with his arms crossed and with his hair unbrushed. Written behind the picture is the line, ‘The first light picture ever taken. 1839’.

Curiously, Robert lost interest in photography along the way, because he preferred to earn money through his family business, but it cannot be denied that his daguerreotype works have made their place in history.

Tags: first photograph that showed a human face clearly, first self portrait, October 1839, portraiture, Robert Cornelius, September 2011, Story behind the image