These Turn-of-the-Century Selfies Are Fantastic

Joseph Byron Clayton and friends taking an early selfie. Photo: courtesy Tom Byron.
Joseph Byron Clayton and friends taking an early selfie. Photo: courtesy Tom Byron.

A retro selfie of a group of mustachioed men donning decidedly dapper matching suit-and-hat combos is currently charming denizens of the internet. As reported by the Huffington Post, Tom Byron, the great-grandson of the photographer, Joseph Byron Clayton, uploaded a series of photographs earlier this year to Quora in response for a call for great selfies.

A photograph of Joseph Byron Clayton taking an early selfie.  Photo: courtesy Tom Byron.

A photograph of Joseph Byron Clayton taking an early selfie.
Photo: courtesy Tom Byron.

A photograph of the photograph in progress shows the five men standing with their arms around each other, the two on each end teaming up to take the picture, New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the background. The bulky, box-shaped camera Byron utilized to take his classic shots was considerably less maneuverable than the slim iPhones available today, making his handwork all-the-more impressive. The wide angle lens distorts the photograph’s edges, creating a bit of a pincushion effect.

While undeniably old school, Byron Clayton can’t lay claim to being the first selfie-taker, an honor that probably belongs to Robert Cornelius and dates back to 1839. The first photograph to capture a human being was taken in Paris by Louis Daguerre one year earlier (see “Oldest Photograph of a Human Is Back in the Spotlight“).

Joseph Byron Clayton taking an early selfie.  Photo: courtesy Tom Byron.

Joseph Byron Clayton taking an early selfie.
Photo: courtesy Tom Byron.

The earliest of the Byron Clayton selfies dates from 1909, proving that the urge to turn the camera on one’s self, without enlisting a third party, is over a hundred years old. The fancy, turn-of-the-century attire of Byron Clayton and is friends is obviously a huge part of the photograph’s appeal, but it also doesn’t hurt that the photographer bears more than a passing resemblance to Teddy Roosevelt.

In addition to helping pioneer the selfie, Byron Clayton helped run the family photography business, which was founded in the 1850s.


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