Standing slightly off-center and sporting a scruffy beard and unkempt hair, Cornelius took the selfie using a box fitted with a lens from an opera glass that resulted in the now-famous mid-19 th century daguerreotype (Grenoble, 2014, Robert Cornelius). Unlike today's selfies which are instantly taken using a smartphone and then uploaded to social media through an application, early daguerreotypes had a long exposure time—ranging from three to fifteen minutes—which
24 were perceived as impractical for portraiture (Robert Cornelius). Along with taking the world's first selfie in history, Cornelius took the first light photograph in history, as indicated by a caption on the back of the daguerreotype that says, “The first light picture ever taken” (Andreasson, 2014). His famous self-portrait was taken a few months after Louis Daguerre had announced the invention of the daguerreotype at the French Academy of Sciences in August 1839, making it one of the first daguerreotypes to be produced in the United States (Andreasson, 2014; Library of Congress). Although the daguerreotype was developed by Louis Daguerre in France in 1839, its popularity in America that led to Cornelius' self-portrait was first known in America through inventor Samuel F.B. Morse who learned about it in Paris that same year. Morse wrote a letter to his brother, the editor of the New York Observer, about the photographic method which was subsequently published on April 20 and it was first-ever mention of the daguerreotype in American media. Morse and other practitioners, such as chemist John W. Draper and dentist Samuel Bemis, started making images, thus aggrandizing its popularity. By 1853, there were between 13,000 and 17,000 practicing daguerreotypists in the United States (Keyes, 1976; Williams, 1996). The actual process of taking a portrait with a daguerreotype was time-consuming, awkward, and unpopular. Unlike selfies today, the process of which merely takes a click of a button on a smartphone to take a self-portrait, there was more effort that had to be done with producing daguerreotypes. The sitter sat for 10 to 15 minutes, dressed in formal clothes, and posed in a stiff position held steady by an uncompromising head rest—and even then, the picture was not guaranteed to be successful despite the work and effort that went into taking it. Eventually, improvements and developments were made to the daguerreotype, such as the
25 addition of gilding to enrich the surface of the image and to protect it from damage, as well as better lenses, light-sensitive chemicals, backgrounds, props, and more imaginative camera angles and lighting (Keyes, 1976). The deep personal engagement that people had with daguerreotypes fostered increased introspection and it led to the consideration of the ethical and spiritual dimensions of the then- new medium. It was very much the precursor to the selfie as the personal engagement aspect led people to deeply and thoroughly consider its utilization in the construction of individual identity (Williams, 1996).
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- Winter '16
- Robert Kalle
- Celebrity, Self-portrait