A Brief History of the Selfie

By Lindsay Macdonald - June 21, 2019
4 mins read time
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Here at Stackla, National Selfie Day is one of the most important days of the year. It celebrates the most compelling content there is: photos of us. 💁‍♀️

We’re all about the power of authentic content posted by real people, and we consider a selfie the pinnacle of genuine user-generated content. A selfie is a celebration — it expresses well-deserved appreciation for yourself and whoever or whatever or wherever shares the screen. When we celebrate National Selfie Day, we celebrate each and every one of you. You are the content creators that make this world iconic.

To express our love for selfies, we’ve curated a brief chronological list of a few of the most iconic selfies to exist. Please enjoy.

Las Meninas: The First Mirror Selfie

Arguably one of the first mirror selfies to ever exist appeared in the acclaimed painting, Las Meninas, by Spanish artist Diego Velázquez in the Baroque period of 1656. A work whose hectic, illusory depiction of an elite group of people has sparked curiosity for years, Las Meninas provides a unique perspective on the characters that exist in a selfie.

Because we can only see the characters in the painting via their reflection in the mirror, the painting captures an era, a time when the young lady-in-waiting was, indeed, waiting — amidst many other going-ons around her, including a portrait in progress. It’s a painting as a selfie. It’s a selfie as a historical snapshot.

This first mirror selfie is a beautiful, confusing occurrence, and it taught us an essential lesson that we should all carry with us: a mirror selfie is art.

Duchess Anastasia Nikoleavna takes the first intentional mirror selfie

Young Russian Duchess, Anastasia Nikoleavna snapped the first intentional mirror selfie in 1913 by propping up the most popular camera of the time, the Kodak brownie, on a chair in front of a mirror.

Her snapshot of herself seems to express some sort of discontent or boredom. Could it be teenage angst? The overwhelming weight of the realization that this very action will go down in history as an essential underpinning of the world of social sharing as we know it today? We may never know her feelings in this moment, but we do know that Anastasia really got this right — here, a mirror selfie is groundbreaking.

The first selfie in outer space

Buzz Aldrin may have been the second man to walk on the moon, but he was the first person to take a selfie while floating in outer space. Both accomplishments are pretty incredible. During the Gemini XII mission in 1966, Aldrin snapped the above photo from far, far above all of us.

He shared the selfie on Twitter and properly dubbed it the “BEST SELFIE EVER.” Do we deign to disagree? I think not! Here, a selfie is out of the world.

The Hubble Telescope: The accidental mirror selfie

This famous image of workers inspecting the primary mirror of the Hubble Telescope in 1984 provides another mysterious mirror selfie. Does the mirror image of the technicians match up with the technicians on the floor? No? That’s because the mirror is layered — when light enters the Hubble Telescope, it reflects off the main mirror and hit a second, smaller mirror, and the Hubble’s mechanisms wait to capture the light as it bounces back and forth when it enters a hole in the center.

In the same vein as Las Meninas,  we can only see the characters that are on the scene through their reflection. It’s an accidental selfie that captures a moment in history we wouldn’t have been able to see fully without the images in the mirror. This selfie requires us to understand yet another important lesson in the history of the selfie: a mirror selfie is reflection.

The first use of #selfie on Instagram was brand-inspired user-generated content

It’s said that the first instance of the hashtagged #selfie appeared on the above Instagram photo. Jennifer Lee included the fateful word in the comments of her post expressing her genuine appreciation for the sweater she purchased from Anthropologie.

Authentic user-generated content is impactful. According to a recent Stackla study, 71 percent of people say they’d post about a positive clothing or accessories purchase. People genuinely love — and have always loved — to create and share content about the brands and products they like.

Here, a selfie is an authentic product endorsement.

Ellen Degeneres snaps the most popular — and most valuable — selfie

Ellen Degeneres took what has now been named one of the most influential photos of all time. At the 2014 Oscars, Ellen made her way into the crowd of high-profile celebrities and took a selfie with a slew of some of the most famous celebrities in the world.

The photo has been retweeted over 3 million times — more than any other photo in history. And why wouldn’t it be? Look at these beautiful, happy, expensive smiles! What a special moment. Can I just Photoshop myself in? A celebrity selfie is, indeed, influential.

Seagulls prove that selfies aren’t just for humans

In London this year, a few seagulls have really taken to the traffic cameras. In fact, they like them so much that they’ve now decided that they should actually be the stars of the show on the road.

These seagull selfies have become an iconic part of London’s traffic reporting, and they’ve really lightened the mood on days with especially high congestion.

I’m just going to say this now and leave it here: seagulls are the next influencers. You heard it here. Seagull traffic cam selfies are the next big thing.

Of course, this selfie of the Stackla team

In the list of iconic selfies, I can’t pass up an opportunity to showcase this selfie of a few members of the Stackla team. Here, packed into a car, we have Stacklamites from Australia, San Francisco, and Austin en route to an undisclosed location. Where are they going? Hopefully somewhere to take more selfies. A Stackla selfie is a hot commodity.

The era of the selfie

Of course, this brief history highlights only a few of many iconic moments the selfie has had along its journey to selfiehood. But, that’s the beauty of the selfie. It’s a quick moment caught on camera, a quick snap of a feeling and a memory of a time that’s passed.

The selfie is user-generated content in its truest form. We hope you treat yourself and take a good one today (and everyday). From the Stackla team to you, Happy National Selfie Day.

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