As the Oscars selfie becomes the most retweeted image of all time, eclipsing Barack Obama’s 2012 post-election snap, a different photograph could lay claim to making history. In this one, A-listers and world politicians are replaced by be-hatted men with moustaches – who struck their group pose in 1920.
In contrast with the jostling of Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Lawrence and other front-row audience members at this year’s Academy Awards, these men had to stand still: their photograph was taken with a camera too heavy to be held in one hand.
All five of the selfie’s subjects were photographers at the Byron Company, a Manhattan-based studio described by The New York Times as “one of New York's pre-eminent commercial photography studios from 1892 to 1942”.
Clutching one side of the camera with his right hand, studio founder Joseph Byron is on the far left; his colleague Ben Falk is holding the other side with his left hand. In between them on the roof of the Marceau studio on Fifth Avenue, Pirie MacDonald, Colonel Marceau, and Pop Core crane their necks against a less crowded New York skyline.
Debate rages over what constitutes the world’s oldest selfie: some claim that it was taken in 1839 by chemist and metallurgist Robert Cornelius, whose daguerreotype is believed to be America’s first portrait photograph. The slow pace of the process meant that he was able to uncover the lens, run into the shot for a minute, and then replace the lens cap.
Others argue that selfies originated with the debut of the portable Kodak Brownie box camera in 1900; many photographers – like this Edwardian woman – took self-portraits in mirrors.
Yet this arm’s-length shot could be the earliest predecessor of “the selfie that broke Twitter”.
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