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Shadow-Catcher: 1839

Shadow-Catcher: 1839

Philadelphia, November 1839. "Robert Cornelius, self-portrait facing front, arms crossed. Inscription on backing: The first light-picture ever taken. 1839." One of the first photographs made in the United States, this quarter-plate daguerreotype, taken in the yard of the Cornelius family's lamp-making business in Philadelphia, is said to be the earliest photographic portrait of a person. View full size.


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I'd do him.


If anyone is wondering why this is currently No. 1 on Shorpy, it's because this Lewis Powell photo has been blogged on, thanks to a post on Bangable Dudes in History.

[Super. I wonder how long it'll be before Jared Loughner attains bangability. - Dave]

Yorkshire, UK

He looks like a modern day Dr Who!

Gorgeous? yes!


My twin brother Carl recently showed me an edition of "Wuthering Heights" which has this daguerreotype as the front cover illustration, and we both realize...Robert Cornelius could be Mr. Heathcliff, exactly as he is described in the novel, with that handsome yet brooding countenance, including the military-style sideburns! Mr. Cornelius could also easily be a younger version of Edward Rochester, and I feel that both Charlotte and Emily Bronte would agree!

Family Tree

This picture makes me want to do some genealogy maiden name is Cornelius and there are many resemblances to my father and his father... huh. I don't know much as my grandfather died when my dad was little...

Robert Cornelius

The quite handsome Cornelius bears a strong resemblance to Beethoven. See 1820 portrait by Joseph Karl Stieler when Beethoven was 50. Bed-head is not something new to this generation but it seems to suit both gentlemen.


The 1870 Census shows a Robert Cornelius (60) in Philly married to Harriett (55), with four children living at home: John (30), Fannie (23), Helen (20) and Constance (16). I'm guessing this is our man from his age and listed occupation as "manuf. of gas fixture." The Census also seems to show that he was rather well off and that his son followed in the family business.

What a treasure, thanks as always Dave.

Mrs. DJS

Robert Cornelius.

He did take another one in 1843, covering his face though.


Just another female chiming in about how gorgeous he is! I bet he had all the beauties swooning over him back in the day! I'd love to read more about him!


Yes, please!

How Gorgeous!!

I'm in love. Too bad he's dead and I'm 70.
It could have been something wonderful.

Nicolas Huet. 1837

Nicolas Huet. 1837... probably the first portrait ever made

[There are questions surrounding this claim, made 10 years ago on a French web site. - Dave]

Good lord

He is really good looking. Jeez. Now I need to think about how he probably wouldn't be very good date material nowadays (women can VOTE???).

Robert Cornelius

The New York Times, May 4, 1895:

Headline: Advance in Photograph

As set forth some time ago at the Franklin Institute, Philadelphia's claims for priority are ... Robert Cornelius of Philadelphia obtained the first picture of a human face by Daguerre's process in the world, November, 1839, in the yard of his residence, 176 Chestnut (710) Street ... in February, 1840, opened, at the northeast corner of Eighth Street and Lodge Alley, the first portrait studio in America, if not in the world.

Time Machine

He looks skeptical. Little does he know that the funny box he is staring into is connected to the Inter-Net!

Quite handsome!

He lived until 1893. I wonder if he admired this portrait in his old age and thought, Heh, I was pretty good looking back in the day...

Wonder what the rest of his life was like. Did he marry?

Here's a link to an article about him from Godey's Lady's Book

Wild Mane

All those years of having my hair perfectly coiffed for school pictures, family portraits, team photos... and it was meant to be free from the beginning!


Will Hugh Jackman be playing him in the movie?


I think the casual history of photography posits that there wasn't really any photography before the Civil War. Of course this is untrue, but I enjoy seeing this "from the beginning" example!

And it's been mentioned before, but Mr. C is incredibly good looking. Being a 23-year-old 169 years after this photo was taken, that seems a bit creepy, but I guess it's good to appreciate true beauty throughout the ages. If only Mr. C had come along a little later, Colin Firth would have indeed been out of a job!

Mr. C

Wow, Mr. Cornelius was kinda ... hot. He has that Mr. Darcy look about him. Well, *had* that look about him.


He looks like Johnny Depp's "Sweeney Todd" character.

How Handsome!

I'd date him! What a beautiful photograph.

Love That Bob

Dashing devil! Love these old daguerreotypes.

- Katherine

Sitting time?

How long would an exposure have been for that process back then? This looks rather casual compared to other early portraits.

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