Snappin‘ Selfies: Self-Portrait History and Facts

Snappin‘ Selfies: Self-Portrait History and Facts

If you’re not already familiar with the term “selfie,” it’s basically a shortened term for “self-portrait.” However, unlike the word ”self-portrait,” which is often associated with a variety of professional art mediums, such as painting, photography, and sculpture (to name a few), the word “selfie” is typically used to refer to holding a cell phone and extending an arm to take a photo of oneself. Most definitions narrow it down, even more, stating that it’s also a photo that gets posted on social media. (Yes, this word has been added to multiple dictionaries!) And since 2014, National Selfie Day has been celebrated on June 21st every year, invented by a DJ and radio host from Texas named Rick McNeely. In honor of the selfie and our love for photos, let’s talk #selfiefacts!

The History
Some of the earliest known self-portraits came out of ancient Egypt, one of them being a sculpture created by Bak around 1345 BC of him and his wife. Though this is based on our modern-day evidence, self-portraiture was likely around even earlier. When it comes to oil paintings, what is believed to be one of the first self-portraits of its kind is Jan van Eyck’s Portrait of a Man (Self-Portrait?) created in 1433. In 1524, Parmigianino painted a self-portrait using a convex mirror, titled appropriately Self-portrait in a Convex Mirror. From there, we have many recorded and preserved self-portrait paintings and sculptures throughout our modern day.

As for the beginning of selfies as we know them today, Robert Cornelius took what is assumed to be the first-ever photographic self-portrait in 1839, 13 years after the invention of photography. (If you want to learn more about the history of photography, we discuss the highlights of that here.) Though this may seem like an 1839 mirror pic, it actually isn‘t. He took the photo, hustled into the camera‘s frame, and kept still in the pose that you see here for about a minute before running back up to the camera and covering up the lens again. If you’re now curious about the first selfie taken in a mirror, you might be surprised to find out that it was taken by a teenage girl in 1914 (at least, this is the earliest famous mirror pic), and that teenage girl was none other than Anastasia Nikolaevna, the Russian Grand Duchess at the time. That’s right, The Greatest Generation (GI) invented the mirror pic, not millennials.

Robert Cornelius, 1839

Today, selfie-taking is incredibly common, which has a lot to do with advances in technology and inspiration from past famed self-portraits.

The Word
There is a rumor that a specific Australian man named Nathan Hope coined the term “selfie” in 2002. But as much as we want to be able to pinpoint the exact time and believe a funny story of the invention of the word, unfortunately, no one really knows EXACTLY who started this term or the story behind it. It is guessed to have originated in Australia sometime before 2002 with a story as simple as just shortening the word “self-portrait“ like many other words that have been shortened throughout history. As far as internet history goes though, 2002 was the first time that the word appeared in online text.

The Accessories
When it comes to alternative ways to take selfies other than extending your own arm to snap a pic, the famous “selfie stick“ probably comes to mind. It may feel like the selfie stick is a product of the 2010s, but it actually dates back earlier than you may think. Though the idea of taking a self-portrait using an extended stick was talked about and was (sort of) done prior, what we think of as a selfie stick was officially patented for the first time in 1985 by Hiroshi Ueda and Yujiro Mima, which they referred to as an “extender stick”. The patent ended in 2003, never resulting in much popularity. (Remember, this was before smartphone cameras.) By 2005, Wayne Fromm patented the selfie stick, which he named “Quik Pod”. Once smartphones grew in popularity and front-facing cameras became common, selfie sticks began to take the world by storm. By 2014, this invention was raving in popularity, which is when most of us became aware of it. Since then, selfie sticks have become a bit controversial, being banned in many museums and amusement parks due to perceived safety concerns.

Before the front-facing camera or the selfie stick, one of the most common ways to take a selfie was by using a self-timer and a tripod. Even though most phones and modern cameras have built-in self-timers, this selfie accessory is probably one of the least used for taking selfies in modern day!

The Fun Facts!