Thanks to smartphones, satellites, and over-sharing Facebook users, it’s easy to find photographic evidence of pretty much anything these days. But before the documented universe was available at our fingertips, the field of photography had to pass a lot of milestones. From to daguerreotypes to Instagram, here are 10 photography firsts.
1. FIRST PHOTOGRAPH OF PEOPLE.
The oldest known photo of living humans was taken by accident. When Louis Daguerre captured this Paris street scene in 1838 with his newly-invented daguerreotype process, he wasn’t expecting any people to show up in the final image. That’s because the long exposure time required at least 10 minutes to work. That’s a long time to sit for a photograph, but these two subjects were able to do so without even meaning to. The figures in the bottom left corner are believe to be a shoeshiner and one of his customers standing still long enough to make photography history.
2. FIRST SELFIE.
People were snapping seflies long before the iPhone debuted a front-facing camera feature. If you define a selfie as "a photo taken of oneself by oneself" then this self-portrait of Robert Cornelius taken in 1839 might very well qualify as the first. When photography was still in its experimental stages, it wasn’t uncommon for photographers to use themselves as models rather than find someone else to sit still for them. That’s why this photo is thought to be not only the first selfie ever taken, but it’s also considered by many to be the first photographic portrait. Cornelius, a photography enthusiast and amateur chemist, captured this image in the back of his family’s store in Philadelphia. Even in 1839, he seems to have had the classic selfie smolder down cold.
3. FIRST U.S. PRESIDENT PHOTOGRAPHED.
While America would continue to paint presidential portraits by hand for decades to come, the first photograph of a president was snapped fairly early in our nation’s history. This daguerreotype of John Quincy Adams was taken during a trip to New York in August 1843. Considered among the oldest surviving photos of a U.S. president ever captured, Adams himself described it as “hideous.” This photo was taken in his Quincy, Massachusetts home during the same year.
4. FIRST PHOTOGRAPH OF NEW YORK CITY.
Today, New York City ranks among the most documented cities on earth. But when it was first photographed in 1848, it hardly resembled the bustling metropolis we’re now familiar with. This daguerreotype was discovered at a small New England auction with the note “a continuation of Broadway.” The street in the photo is though to be Bloomingdale Road, which was turned into Broadway in 1899.
5. FIRST COLOR PHOTOGRAPH.
The first color photograph ever taken shows…a necklace? An opalescent bunny rabbit? Actually, this picture is of a knotted up strip of tartan ribbon (tartan referring to the plaid pattern). While color photography didn’t become widely accessible until the 20th century, this image actually dates back to 1861. In order to achieve the multi-colored affect, Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell photographed the cloth three times using red, blue, and yellow filters. He then recombined them to create a single vibrant color composite.
6. FIRST PHOTOGRAPH OF ANIMALS TAKEN AT NIGHT.
Wildlife enthusiast George Shiras is thought to be the first photographer to experiment with taking pictures of animals at night. Using a flashlight camera connected to a trip wire, Shiras was able to capture this shot of a doe with her two fawns in Whitefish River, Michigan around 1906.
7. FIRST PHOTOGRAPH TAKEN FROM SPACE.
Forty-four years before the Hubble launched and 11 years before Sputnik, we captured the first photograph from space, in 1946. This picture of Earth was taken by American military engineers and scientists using a Nazi V-2 rocket launched from White Sands, New Mexico. This was still years before NASA, and the United States' only rockets were those which had been seized from the Nazis at the end of World War II. The device responsible for this out-of-this-world image was a 35mm camera designed by engineer Clyde Holliday to snap a photo every second and a half.
8. FIRST DIGITAL IMAGE.
Decades before people stored their entire photo collections on their computers, the first-ever digital image was scanned. In 1957, a scientist named Russell Kirsch was working with the only programmable computer in the U.S. at the National Bureau of Standards. He was able to scan a photograph of his son onto the computer using an apparatus that translated the image into binary. The 176-by-176 pixel picture led the way for everything from CT scans to Facebook profile pictures.
9. FIRST PHOTOGRAPH POSTED ONLINE.
The first photo uploaded to the internet is a glorious representation of early '90s cheesiness. The bad Photoshop job and prom poses feel like a premonition of the Internet to come, and the story behind the image makes you appreciate it even more.
In 1992, "Les Horribles Cernettes," an all-girl comedy band formed by employees at the CERN laboratory in Geneva, took this picture as a promotional photo for their group. They later edited it using version one of Photoshop on a color Mac and saved it as a .gif file. It was then uploaded onto the web by Tim Berners-Lee, one of the inventors of the Internet, where it became the first web photo of many many more.
10. FIRST INSTAGRAM
It’s still too early to say whether an app designed to make new pictures look old will earn a footnote in photography history or pave the way for its future. Whatever its fate turns out to be, the first-ever Instagram photo is still worthy of a double-tap. Instagram cofounder Kevin Systrom snapped this photo at a taco stand in Todos Santos, Mexico. The picture was actually taken three months before the app’s launch, which would technically make it a #latergram.