Selfies a typical 21st century phenomenon? No way! Two ages ago people were already doing it This is what EUR art historian Mattie Boom discovered when she was studying a huge amateur photo collection, consisting of albums and series done by Dutch travellers.
For her dissertation at Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication, Boom researched amateur photographers societies that arose in the late 19th century as well as photo albums of a fast growing group of anonymous amateurs. She found out that the selfie, snapshot and ‘I-camera’, as a result of small, portable camera’s like the Kodak, already existed in 1888. In an article in newspaper de Volkskrant, Boom talks about the photographers. ‘They weren’t old, boring men with bowler hats and cigars, which is the cliché. They were young men and women of high descent, groups of friends who travelled a lot and brought their camera’s.’
Snapshot turns art
Little research has been done when it comes to amateur photography. According to Boom, the reason for this is the fascination of the anonymity of pictures from the past. ‘That relieves us of the obligation to research them. While in fact, we should research them.’ Why? Because many famous photographs of the 20th century are rooted in these old, amateurish, domestic images. Take Bill Brandt, a British photographer whose world famous pictures were found in his private album, in between his other snapshots. That’s why research is necessary: you could just miss the moment a snapshot turns into art.