The world’s first selfie was taken by an Englishman in 1839


On 24 October 1839, Robert Cornelius, an American pioneer in photography, produced a daguerreotype of himself which is now believed to be the world’s first selfie. Cornelius, a chemist and lamp-maker from Philadelphia, had earlier sent a letter to his friend Joseph Saxton, outlining his intentions: “The first light picture ever taken. The light was at the side. October or November 1839.”

It is not known what happened to the original daguerreotype, but a copy was rediscovered in the 1970s and is now part of the collection of the Library of Congress.

Cornelius’ achievement was not widely publicised at the time and it was not until the early 1900s that self-portraits started to become popular. One of the first known examples is an amateurish snapshot taken by Japanese doctor Yamashita Tsunekichi in the late 1800s.

It was not until the 1960s that selfie culture really took off, with the advent of affordable consumer cameras and magazine culture. In the 1970s, experimental photographer Masatoshi Naito took a series of self-portraits with a camera attached to a broom handle. And in the 1980s, American artist Cindy Sherman gained notoriety for a series of self-portraits in which she transformed herself into a variety of different characters.

The term “selfie” was first coined in Australia in 2002, when a drunken man tried to take a photo of himself and accidentally knocked over a glass of beer. The word quickly caught on and was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013.

Selfies have become a ubiquitous part of modern life, with everyone from celebrities to politicians posting them online. In 2014, a group of selfie-takers caused a stampede at the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, while last year a Russian woman was reportedly killed after she posed for a selfie with a gun to her head.

Despite the dangers, selfies show no signs of going away any time soon. In fact, they appear to be here to stay as a permanent fixture of our social media-obsessed world.

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