Selfies - a thoroughly modern phenomena.

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Selfie - Vivian Maier c.1954

A selfie is a self-portrait photograph, typically taken with a hand-held digital camera or camera phone. Selfies are often shared on social networking services such as Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. They are usually flattering and made to appear casual. Most selfies are taken with a camera held at arm's length or pointed at a mirror, rather than by using a self-timer.

Hands up anyone who has not heard of a 'selfie'?............ Anyone?

Most people will consider the act of sharing an image of ones self with as many people who care to look. (As we have said, usually on some form of social media). as a modern day phenomena.

I think a few of you may be surprised to learn that selfies have been around for a very

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long time. In fact an early pioneer of photography, Robert Cornelius, produced a daguerreotype of himself in 1839 (see image right) which is also one of the first photographs of a person. Because the process was slow, Cornelius was able to run into the shot for a minute or more, and then replace the lens cap. I can just imagine the young Cornelius running backwards and forwards breaking into a sweat as he perfected the technique.

Today we simply pop out our mobile phone, hold it at arms length and instantly we can see our lovely self, ready to share with the world simply by pressing another button. Cornelius probably spent a significant amount of his week just carrying out the process of producing his final image. You could hardly call it instant back in the mid 1800's.

So was Mr Cornelius the inventor of the selfie? I think it is probably fair to say not, as he was simply experimenting with (at the time) cutting edge technology and this 'selfie' capture was simply part of that process.

It could be argued that Kodak were responsible for the advent of selfies when they

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produced the Box Brownie in 1900 and in the process making photography accessable to a much larger audience. As the public embraced this new technology and relaxed in the knowledge that capturing a photograph was not the 'devils work', the act of a 'selfie' became more commonplace.

Russian Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna at the age of 13, was one of the first teenagers to take her own picture using a mirror to send to a friend in 1914. In the letter that accompanied the photograph, she noted, "I took this picture of myself looking at the mirror. It was very hard as my hands were trembling" - Clearly the act of taking a photograph in 1914 was an incredibly stressful and fractious experience and correct me if I am wrong here, but I seriously doubt any of us will read a similar selfie post on Facebook (other social networks are available too) where the poster claimed to have had trembling hands caused simply from the act of taking his or her photograph. In saying that, if the early Motorola Brick phones from the 80's had the facility to take a photograph, then it would be fair to say that shaking hands would have come about from simply supporting the weight of the actual phone at arms length, when taking a selfie.

The actual term selfie was first recorded in 2002 when it appeared in an Australian internet forum and we have been using the term ever since, with the selfie growing in popularity to its current peak today. The term selfie is also considered to be in the top ten of buzzwords today.

Famous selfies

In 1966, in what many would now consider to be the most significant of selfies,

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Buzz Aldrin, when taking a space walk, took a photograph of himself, which interestingly was also the worlds first EVA selfie. Extra-vehicular activity (EVA) is any activity done by an astronaut or cosmonaut outside a spacecraft beyond the Earth's appreciable atmosphere. Please do not try this at home.

President Barack Obama also made the headlines (perhaps not his finest hour) when during Nelson Mandela's memorial celebration at the Johannesburg's FNB Stadium with a collection of other world leaders - he was snapped taking a selfie and sharing smiles with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, and later with British Prime MinisterDavid Cameron, as they gathered to pay tribute to Mandela. There was a level of public outrage as many considered this to be in bad taste. The photos also depict the First Lady, Michelle Obama sitting next to them looking more than "furious and mortified" - ooops!

Like them or loath them, selfies have never been more popular - Instagram has over 53 million photos tagged with hashtag #selfie. The word “selfie” was mentioned in Facebook status updates over 368,000 times during a one week period in October 2013. During the same period on Twitter, the hashtag #selfie was used in more than 150,000 tweets.

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Selfie, taken with tripod and timer 2014

So the next time you capture a selfie or have one appear in your timeline, consider Mr Robert Cornelius and all the other photography pioneers, as without their dedication to the creation of photographic equipment and then the progress of technological advances that now allow us to be able to share any picture anytime with anybody we choose, the selfie would probably never have existed.

The selfie - since 1839. :)

Mark Cargill.


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