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The First Documented Self-Portrait

Self-portraits. Robert Cornelius did it before it was cool. Strike that -- he even did that before photography was cool.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

This daguerreotype photograph was taken by Robert Cornelius around October 1839. While it might not look like it at first, this is actually a self-portrait of Cornelius. And according to the Library of Congress, believed to be the earliest extant American portrait photo.

“Daguerre announced his invention of a photographic method to the French Academy of Sciences in August 1839. That October, a young Philadelphian, Robert Cornelius, working out of doors to take advantage of the light, made this head-and-shoulders self-portrait using a box fitted with a lens from an opera glass. In the portrait, Cornelius stands slightly off-center with hair askew, in the yard behind his family’s lamp and chandelier store, peering uncertainly into the camera. Early daguerreotypy required a long exposure time, ranging from three to fifteen minutes, making the process nearly impractical for portraiture.” — ‘Photographic Material,’ by Carol Johnson. In Gathering History: the Marian S. Carson Collection of Americana, 1999, p. 100 via the Library of Congress

written by geegraphy


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