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