Does this 90-year-old photo show the world's first 'selfie stick'?

  • 19 December 2014
Alan Cleaver from Whitehaven in Cumbria sent a picture of his grandparents - could this be the first photo taken with a 'selfie stick'?
Image caption Alan Cleaver from Whitehaven sent this picture of his grandparents to BBC Radio Cumbria - could it be the first photo taken with a 'selfie stick'?

There's a new gadget to help you with those tricky self-photography angles - but is the "selfie stick" really a modern phenomenon?

Earlier BBC Trending told the story of the rise of this year's hot trend - the selfie stick. It prompted freelance journalist Alan Cleaver to send in the above picture in which his grandparents are taking a photo of themselves with the aid of, yes, a long pole. In fact, you might even call it a stick.

Cleaver says the photo was taken in Rugby, in Warwickshire (central England) in 1925 just after his grandparents Arnold and Helen Hogg got married. Fortunately for us, Arnold Hogg committed the rookie error of accidently including the pole in shot, preserving the evidence of his selfie stick for posterity.

"It's always been a favourite photo of the family," Cleaver says.

Media captionBBC Trending reports on the rise of the 'selfie stick'. Just ignore the bit where we say they've been around for about two years.

Cleaver says his grandfather was a renowned entertainer and a musician who played piano in a local cinema until his professional career was cut short by another technological innovation - the talking film. But he says Arnold Hogg, who died in 1972, wouldn't have been sore about missing out on any potential selfie-stick royalties.

"He'd have loved the attention the photo is getting now, more than 100 years after his birth, because he was that sort of guy - very off the wall, very entertaining," Cleaver says. "It's wonderful that the rest of the world is delighting in the humour of this situation."

Selfies themselves are as old as photography, but until today we thought the selfie stick was a more recent - and, for some, slightly pernicious - phenomenon.

Michael Pritchard, the director-general of the Royal Photographic Society and an expert in the history of photography, says that he's not aware of selfie sticks being commercially available until very recently.

"That said, amateur photographers have always been an incredibly inventive bunch of people," he says. "There are lots and lots of examples over the years of amateurs devising all sorts of clever contraptions."

Amateur box cameras of the 1920s would not have been able to capture an in-focus self-photo when held at arms length, he says, so selfie photographers then would have had to use a remote shutter device such as a cable, or else - as Arnold Hogg apparently did - build their own device.

Of course, it's difficult to definitively prove that Hogg's homemade contraption the world's first selfie stick, but we reckon it's a got a pretty good shot at the title. If you happen to come across an older one - please do get in touch.

Reporting by Mike Wendling

h/t Douglas Marshall and BBC Radio Cumbria

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