Historical Selfies Taken Long Before Selfies Were Even A Thing

Published March 25, 2017
Updated December 10, 2019
Robert Cornelius
Self Portrait Kristian Berge
Unidentified Woman Taking Her Own Photograph
Buzz Aldrin Self Photograph During Gemini 12
Historical Selfies Taken Long Before Selfies Were Even A Thing
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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 is a veteran writer on topics including television, history, music, art, video games, and food. His work has also appeared on Grunge, Ranker, and Looper.
Savannah Cox
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.