‘Photographic Firsts’: First Examples of Modern Photo Cliches
This weekend, the fantastic Photography Show takes place in Birmingham, England. To celebrate the event, we have worked with the British Royal Photographic Society, the world’s oldest photography organisation, to curate a gallery of the earliest-known examples of now-iconic photographic clichés.
From the first ‘cat photo’ (c.1850), to the first ‘selfie stick picture’ (1926), we’ve tracked down ten of the earliest examples of modern photographic clichés.
We’re also calling on you to search your attics, local archives, and photography albums, to see if you can find even earlier examples of these pictures. If you do, please submit them via firstname.lastname@example.org and we will consider them for inclusion in our gallery!
For press enquiries please also contact: email@example.com
The Food Photo (Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, 1832)
Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, a French inventor, is widely heralded for taking the first-ever photograph. He also took the photograph shown here - which is the earliest-known food photo. Despite its austere appearance, this simple scene is actually the ancestor of every single piece of Instagram #foodporn.
The Selfie (Robert Cornelius, 1839)
Amateur chemist and photography enthusiast Robert Cornelius, from Philadelphia, took this picture - the original ‘selfie’ - in 1839. Cornelius had to sprint round in front of the camera, having taken of its lens cap, to pose for this shot.
Google reported 24 billion selfies had been uploaded to the internet in 2017 alone, and according to TIME Magazine the three cities with the highest ratio of selfie-takers in the world are Makati City in the Philippines (258 selfie-takers per 100,000 people in the last ten days), New York (202), and Miami (155). Cornelius’ Philadelphia came 121st in the ranking (27 selfie takers per 100,000 people), which would surely have made him proud.
The Night-Out Photo (David Octavius Hill & Robert Adamson, 1844)
Documenting on-the-town escapades with photographs has become a staple of modern society. The first people to do it were Robert Adamson (who also posed for the photo, right) and David Octavius Hill. Their picture is of three friends enjoying a drink together in Edinburgh, Scotland. Also pictured is James Ballantine (left), the son of a brewer in Edinburgh who was a writer and stained-glass artist; and Dr George Bell (centre), a commissioner of the 1845 Poor Law, a significant piece of Scottish legislation that allowed local taxes to be raised to cover poor-relief costs.
The Protest Photo (Hippolyte Bayard, 1840)
Photography has long captured and elevated protest movements around the world. Hippolyte Bayard, a French photographic scientist and inventor, is credited with the first use of photography to protest perceived injustice. Named ‘Self Portrait as a Drowned Man’, Bayard’s image was designed to give the impression that he had committed suicide.
The motive for this? Bayard had planned to announce his direct positive printing process to the French Academy of Sciences, a move that would make him a household name in the photography world. François Arago, secretary of the Academy, convinced Bayard to delay the announcement, while in the meantime telling his friend Louis Daguerre to come forward with his own method. In frustration at this injustice, Bayard posed for and published this photograph - while Daguerre went down in history as one of the fathers of photography.
The Cat Photo (unknown, 1840-1860)
Not much is know about this photograph, sternly titled ‘Unidentified man with cat, three-quarter length portrait, full face, seated’ by the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. Little did the typically casual feline subject know that it would set a precedent for the greatest photographic trend of the digital age: in 2015, CNN estimated that there were 6.5 billion cat pictures on the internet.
The Photobomb (Mary Dillwyn, 1853)
One of Wales’ earliest photographers, Mary Dillwyn had an informal style that was unusual for the 1840s and 1850s. This picture shows the first known ‘photobomb’ (i.e. when an imposter sneaks into a photograph without permission). Dillwyn is also credited with the first photograph of a snowman which, alongside this image, can be found in the National Library of Wales.
Aerial Photography (James Wallace Black, 1860)
James Black, who became famous for his images of Boston in aftermath of the 1872 fire, began his solo photography career taking aerial pictures from a hot air balloon called ‘The Queen of the Air’. These early examples of jetsetter Instagram images are the oldest photographs taken from the sky. Black’s French rival, Gaspard-Félix Tournachon (known by the pseudonym ‘Nadar’), published earlier examples of aerial photography, though these are widely believed to have been destroyed.
‘Flipping the Bird’ (unknown, 1886)
This team photo of the Boston Beaneaters, a Major League Baseball team, is from 1886. Keen-eyed viewers might be able to spot an incendiary gesture coming from the Beaneaters’ pitcher Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn (back row, far left, left hand). This photograph - being the first known capturing someone ‘flipping the bird’ or ‘giving the finger’ - set a precedent for iconic photographic moments such as Johnny Cash’s gesture in San Quentin, 1969, and Madonna during the Super Bowl halftime show in 2012.
The Selfie Stick Photo (Alan Cleaver, 1926)
Arnold and Helen Hogg’s photograph, taken in Rugby, Warwickshire in 1926, represents an ingenious first example of now-ubiquitous selfie stick technology. Using what must have been a DIY device, the photography was taken a year into Arnold and Helen’s marriage. The former was described by his descendants as ‘a really funny guy’ which might explain his whimsical expression and innovative deployment of technology.
Little did he know that TIME magazine would go on to call the selfie stick one of the greatest inventions of 2014.
The ‘Bunny Ears’ Prank (Dale Rooks, 1944)
Photo by Dale Rooks, 1944. (usage: credit as johnbakerswarbook.org / dalerooks.org)
This late-War photograph is believed to be the earliest example of the ‘bunny ears’ prank. Taken (and signed) by Dale Rooks, an American soldier and photographer fighting in Europe, the scene is thought to have been in France in September 1944 (while Rooks’ ship, the USS Duane was docked). Neither the man nor the women have ever been identified.
Terms and Conditions: By submitting images to Trov, members of the public are providing permission for both Trov and the Royal Photographic Society to use the images in their gallery, and in connection with associated activities related to the project (such as in news articles). People submitting photos should be prepared to provide information on how and where the images were discovered.