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Photography, History and Views

As I’ve said elsewhere, I love photography. As a young boy, I was given my first camera and my journey began. I wanted to learn as much as I could about photography so I went to my favorite source for information. The library, specifically encyclopedia’s.

The Worlds First Selfie?

Today, we all take the humble selfie for granted, but have you ever wondered, as I do, who took the first selfie? If you search online for this, you might likely find that credit goes to Robert Cornelius. Cornelius was an American pioneer in photography and his self portrait circa 1839 is considered to be the first photographic portrait, and can be thought of to be the first ever selfie.

Robert Cornelius Self portrait c.1839. Image via Wikipedia.jpg

Ok, I’ll grant you, the Cornelius photo is considered as the first photographic self portrait, but was it really the first selfie? I guess it depends on your point of view. All through history there have been so many artists ranging from the greatest ever to the unknown artists who never really made it big, but were great none the less.

 

Artists

Rembrandt Self Portrait Age 63

Does this name ring a bell? Harmenszoon van Rijn Rembrandt. He is also remembered classically as Rembrandt. Rembrandt was born in 1603 and died in October 1669. He was considered to be one of the greatest visual artists in the history of art, his self portrait at the age of 63 was finished just prior to his death.

So, I pondered, was this the real first self portrait? Not likely. Going back through the ages, I am sure if you dig deep enough you will undoubtedly find other examples from known and unknown artists. I still wanted to know about the first selfie, or at least what could be seen as the first selfie.

Camera’s, The Beginning?

Today we have many different types of camera’s ranging from the cell phone camera, to SLR’s and DSLR’s, to point and shoot. There are film cameras which are still preferred by many photography enthusiasts and professionals. But where did this fascination with capturing pictures come from? It comes from inside of each and every one of us. Our desire to preserve a moment in time. But, are camera’s the beginning?

No, a camera is simply a tool by which we can capture and preserve these moments that are precious to us. or those moments which may have historical value. It’s the human need and desire to keep alive these memories that were the basic driver of the invention and refinement of the camera.

The 1800s was a magical time in photography, new inventions, new processes coming at almost breakneck speeds when compared to the evolution of the artistic mediums which came before. There was the Daguerreotype process developed in 1835 by Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre. This process is considered to be the first ever genuine method of producing photographs.

Going back further in time, past the Rembrandt’s and other famous artists of the Renaissance, we can find many examples of ancient art such as what you find in Egypt and other places around the world. But of all of these ancient works, can any of them be thought of as selfies? I think not.

Cave Dwellers

If we go back far enough in time, we come to our prehistoric ancestors. These were a people at the beginning of development. Man moved indoors, so to speak. They took shelter in caves and built their clans as they grew in numbers and knowledge. As early humans evolved, we might wonder if they were also capable of expressing the world around them. The answer is, evidently they did. Cave painting from around the world, some dating to an estimated 30,000BC to 28,000BC. Scientists and archaeologists have discovered cave-art created by using ocher and other pigments to depict scenes and events of the times. It is assumed that our ancestors wanted to leave a record, possibly more for the education of the younger generations. There is also evidence of hand painting early adornments which can be looked at as the jewelry and fashion of the day.

And then there are the hand stencils found among the other paintings of animals or a hunt. It’s almost as if our ancestors wanted to leave a record of themselves, a signature perhaps. These images are hauntingly beautiful and a marker or a means of saying, “Hey, I was here”.


Indonesian Cave Paintings via Justin Mott 2016

Conclusion

In this writer’s opinion, this cave-art, these hand stencils are, given the medium of the day, the very first and original form of selfie. I might not be able to see the face belonging to the hand stencil, but I see a selfie none the less. I see a person who left his mark on his world for all to see. He could share his selfie with his family or anyone else who might happen along. I see the signature of a person who lived eons ago. This cave-art is humbling to me and even more humbling are the hand stencils. I look at these millennia old selfies and think to myself, are we really so sophisticated. Our technology is sophisticated for sure, but our thoughts haven’t really changed so much over the eons. We still desire to capture moments in time to share with whichever audience we desire, and audiences that may come in the future.

I look forward to you comments and encourage any and all discussion on this topic. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Greg

18 Comments

  1. Photography is art. I hadn’t thought of it as art before until I read your writing. I had wondered why people take selfies and would conclude it was a selfish thing as well. However, I never really wondered who had taken he first ever. This is interesting.  I’m beginning to think maybe I’m not artsy.

    • Linda,

      Thank you for visiting. Photography is definitely art, and the more we experiment with pictures, the more we can advance our technique of expression. Good to hear from you

      Greg

  2. Hey, I learn a lot while reading your article on photography history and views. I found that Cornelius was an American pioneer in photography. Cornelius photo is considered as the first photographic self portrait in 1839. I am also fond of photography. Now we are using cell phone camera, to SLR’s and DSLR’s, to point and shoot. Thanks for sharing the photography history.

    • Parveen,

      Thank you for visiting. I’m glad you had a good learning experience as that was one of my goals while presenting this article.

      Greg

  3. Hello Greg. Thank you for sharing this article on photography history and views. Looking back to the ancient days, it is no doubt that photography has been in existence a very long time ago but in forms that weren’t sophisticated as in our days. So just as you have said, we’re only advancing but our thoughts are similar as in the good old days. 🤳 Selfie we know these days is one taking a photograph of himself usually from a mobile device. But I totally agree with your view of selfie. I had a nice time reading through this piece.

    I wish you the very best in your photography career.

    • MrBiizy,

      Thank you for reading and I appreciate your comments. I ‘m glad you enjoyed reading this article.

      Greg

  4. I’ve always had a thing for photography and it has been more about being able to capture something beautiful, even though I’m planning on starting a photo shoot shop when I get back to school next semester I’m also planning to enjoy this as more than just a job. 

    Never thought of photography being something that was there from.such a long time just in different forms only and the camera was just an advancement to that aspect of capturing moments. Thanks a lot this is a very interesting article and views one wouldn’t see in this manner.

    • Hi Donny,

      Thank you for visiting. I wish you luck in your endeavor to open your own photography business. It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Art can take many forms of expression, and pictures are one of those forms.

      Greg

  5. Totally agreed, the cave-art would be considered the first selfie. the need for being included in the picture is natural (and it gets steroids between our 14-25 years old). There could be writhen a full psychology book on this subject alone. Why do we need to be part of the picture, while taking it? Are we jelling “I’m in control of my life and active within it”?

    I really like Robert Cornelius selfie from 1839. Sure he had too many issues to get the old trigger on a big wooden box while still possing. 

    Thanks for this very entertaining reading. I’ve really enjoyed reading your post.

    • Juan,

      Thank you for your thoughts. Cornelius was one of the pioneers in advancing photography and there were many others. One day I plan on writing more on this topic.

      Greg

  6. Very interesting topic. I never really thought about who had taken the first selfie but I like your take on it. As you mentioned in the end, it does seem that even though our technology may be more advanced now, our motivation behind wanting to take a selfie remains the same. It’s kind of nice to see that we still resemble our ancestors even if it is in this small way.

    • Sam,

      Thank you for visiting and sharing your thoughts in this conversation.

      Greg

  7. This masterpiece is not just merely capturing the history of photography. it is an artistic intent to drive a much deeper message that is embedded in the last position of your article. where men left a piece of themselves in caves. I thought to myself, what quality of selfies are we leaving behind for the many more generations to come. Something to think about.

    but this was well crafted. thanks for sharing.

    • Sam,

      I’ve often wondered what we are leaving behind for future generations to discover and view. Thank you for your insights and comments.

      Greg

  8. As someone who’s fond of photography myself, I do agree that a camera is merely a tool to capture memories. This brings me back to my earliest memory as a child growing up in the farm with my grandparents. We have no camera back then and I remembered drawing behind calendar papers, depicting my daily activities as a kid. I drew a lot of dragonflies and a lot of cats because they were everywhere. I wished I’ve kept some of those copies and show them to my children. It would have been a valuable object to talk about.  

    • Cathy,

      Thank you for your thoughts. You spoke to the heart of the issue. We all seem to have a basic desire to capture and preserve moments in time whether through art or pictures.

      Thank you for visiting

      Greg

  9. I think you nailed it on the head when you said “We still desire to capture moments in time to share” and, I think, to help us remember.  

    I’m no expert at the things “Photography” but I love to take pictures of places I been, the walking sticks I’ve made, people, family, flowers and, birds or other animals.  I’ve never actually tried to take a selfy.  Well, not quite true.  I tried doing one with my dog but, it didn’t turn out so good.🥴

    For me, it’s not just so I can remember or share, it’s because the world around me is so amazing, so diverse.  And, yes, there was the “I was here” part as well.

    I have both digital and film cameras. However, I don’t use film ones so much anymore.  With the advent of cell phones, one always has a camera with them and I never think about taking one of my others with me.  They’re not even the best cameras but, with a little adjustment here and there, they can still produce a pretty nice picture.

    I do like what some of the pros are able to do with these high-end cameras.  They are very adept at capturing beauty no matter where they are and then using technology to enhance them.  There are some real works of photographic are out there don’t you think? Some are just stunning.

    Thanks for the bit of history lesson, where we have been and how far we have come.

    Wayne

    • Wayne,

      Thank you for visiting and taking time to read. In my article, I was speaking of many things and specifically about art in pictures. Art can come in many forms such as the walking sticks that you make. We can see art in so many form virtually anywhere one looks. Its our inner desire to preserve what we see that makes photography so special.

      Thank you

      Greg

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