Historical Selfies Taken Long Before Selfies Were Even A Thing

Published March 25, 2017
Updated December 10, 2019
Robert Cornelius
American photographer Robert Cornelius in the first-ever photographic portrait of a human, self- or otherwise, 1839.Wikimedia Commons/Robert Cornelius

Self Portrait Kristian Berge
Norwegian photographer and engineer Kristian Berge takes a mirror selfie, 1918. Wikimedia Commons/Kristian Berge

Unidentified Woman Taking Her Own Photograph
Unidentified woman taking a mirror selfie with a box camera, 1900.Wikimedia Commons

Buzz Aldrin Self Photograph During Gemini 12
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, pilot of the Gemini-12, takes a selfie in space, 1966. Wikimedia Commons/Buzz Aldrin

Self Portrait Mirror Boxer Machine Fortepan
Unknown woman takes a mirror selfie with a box camera, 1942.Wikimedia Commons

Robert Cornelius Second Selfie
American photographer Robert Cornelius in his second-ever selfie, 1843.Wikimedia Commons/Robert Cornelius

Henry Fitz Jr Self Portrait
American photographer and telescope manufacturer Henry Fitz, Jr. in a daguerreotype selfie, 1839. Wikimedia Commons/Henry Fitz, Jr.

Lobethal Photographer
Daguerreotype selfie of Czech photographer M. V. Lobethal, 1846.Wikimedia Commons/M. V. Lobethal

Albert Tucker And Joy Hester
Australian modernist painter Albert Tucker takes a mirror selfie with wife and fellow artist Joy Hester, 1939. Wikimedia Commons/Albert Tucker

Autoportrait By Zdzislaw Beksinski
Polish surrealist painter, photographer, and sculptor Zdzisław Beksiński takes a prism selfie, 1956-57.Wikimedia Commons/Zdzisław Beksiński

Carol Highsmith Self Portrait Willard Hotel
American photographer Carol Highsmith takes a selfie in a broken mirror during the restoration of the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C., between 1980 and 1990.Wikimedia Commons/Carol Highsmith

Eleazar Langman
Russian photographer Eleazar Langman takes a kettle selfie, 1935.Wikimedia Commons/Eleazar Langman

Juan San Martin Euskaltzaina
Selfie of Basque author and biographer Juan San Martín, 1976.Wikimedia Commons/Juan San Martin

Portret Zbigniewa Zugaja
Polish photographer Zbigniew Zugaj takes a mirror selfie, date unknown.Wikimedia Commons/Zbigniew Zugaj

Julia Christiansen Hoffman
Selfie of American artist and arts patron Julia Christiansen Hoffman, co-founder of the Arts and Crafts Society of Portland, 1885.Wikimedia Commons/Julia Christiansen Hoffman

Julia Pirotte
Selfie of Polish photojournalist Julia Pirotte, best known for documenting World War II, date unknown.Wikimedia Commons/Julia Pirotte

Kari Hakli
Finnish photographer Kari Hakli takes a mirror selfie, 1971.Wikimedia Commons/Kari Hakli

Lucien Photographe
Selfie of French photographer and stained-glass window artist Lucien Bégule, between 1915 and 1920.Wikimedia Commons/Lucien Bégule

Saloff Coste Michel Artwork
French painter and photographer Michel Saloff-Coste takes a mirror selfie, 1980s.Wikimedia Commons/Michel Saloff-Coste

Self Portrait Rolf Spiegel
German photographer Roger Rössing takes a mirror selfie as an unknown man looks on, 1947.Wikimedia Commons/Roger Rössing

Theo And Nelly Van Doesburg
Dutch painter, architect, designer, and writer Theo van Doesburg takes a selfie with his wife Nelly in the background, Paris, 1921.Wikimedia Commons/Theo van Doesburg

Thomas Baker Mirror Kodak
Australian soldier and pilot Thomas Baker takes a dresser mirror selfie, 1917.Wikimedia Commons/Thomas Baker

Woman Self Portrait
Unidentified woman takes a mirror selfie, 1938.Wikimedia Commons

Yousuf Karsh
Armenian-Canadian photographer Yousuf Karsh, best known for his LIFE magazine covers, takes a selfie in Ottawa, 1938.Wikimedia Commons/Yousuf Karsh

Selfies weren't pioneered by the MySpace generation, Generation X, the Greatest Generation -- or any generation, in fact -- this side of the Civil War.

Just over a decade after Joseph Nicéphore Niépce took history's first-ever photograph in 1826 or 1827, American photographer Robert Cornelius turned the lens upon himself, creating the first-ever selfie, long before the term had even been coined.

A deluge of selfies have followed in the ensuing centuries — but more of that sum was taken pre-2000 than you might think.

Unsurprisingly, many of these proto-selfies in the gallery above were taken not by amateur photographers pouting and posing in front of mirrors, but by professional photographers practicing their craft — and testing its boundaries — in their studios.

Still other early selfies were born out of necessity, such as astronaut Buzz Aldrin's from 1966, taken high above the blue marble of Earth, with co-pilot James A. Lovell the only other human within hundreds of miles.

That photo joins many others in the above gallery of proto-selfies ending in 1990 and starting with Cornelius all the way back in 1839. The inaugural year saw Cornelius taking the world's first portrait — self- or otherwise — of a human being, a monumental artistic and technical achievement.

Later, we're treated to decades of photographers using mirrors and other reflective surfaces to cleverly capture themselves capturing themselves — a necessity before handheld cameras made the casual self-portrait a simple and thus all-the-more tempting endeavor.

At the other end of the spectrum, you'll find an amateur self-snapshot of Basque author and biographer Juan San Martín from 1976 that is far closer to the selfies of the 21st century, taken seemingly on a whim, with little concern for the artistic merits of the end result.

Clicking through these images is proof that ease-of-use may have quickened the narcissistic impulse in photographers, both amateur and professional, but it certainly didn't create it.

Next, have a look at what may very well be the world's first selfie ever. Then, see how many selfie-related deaths have occurred since just 2014.

Kellen Perry
Kellen Perry writes about television, history, music, art, video games, and food for ATI, Grunge, Ranker, Ranker Insights, and anyone else that will have him.