First underwater self-portrait (selfie?)
Last updated: April 6, 2020 at 4:16 am
1893 — Louis Boutan (France) took an underwater self-portrait at a depth of 3 m (10 ft) using a camera known as the Detective which he inserted into a wooden housing that he designed with his brother Auguste. Before taking the photo, Boutan had to dive in hardhat gear to install the small housed camera on the sea bed by means of a custom tripod. Focusing was not required at distances under 3 m (10 ft) and plates could be changed underwater by means of a lever, i.e. the diver could take multiple photos without having to surface. In order to function properly, the housing was equipped with a compensation ‘balloon’ that equalized its internal pressure with that of the surrounding water. Photos taken with Boutan’s first underwater camera housing normally required an exposure time of 10 to 30 minutes, which would suggest that this particular image was taken more quickly to allow for a breath-hold pose.
Contrary to popular belief, Boutan did not take the first underwater photo. The first underwater image and the first half & half image (split shot, over-under) were taken by Englishman William Thompson in 1856.
Although the resulting image is highly similar to modern self-portraits, Boutan’s photo was debatably not what is nowadays (2020) known as a “selfie,” which instead refers to a self-portrait taken with a smartphone or camera held at arm’s length, using a selfie stick, or in front of a mirror.
BOUTAN, Louis. 1900. La Photographie Sous-Marine.
BOUTAN, Louis. 1898. L’instantané dans la photographie sous-marine. Archives de zoologie expérimentale et générale, t. 6, n. 3, pp. 305-330.
BOUTAN, Louis. 1893. Mémoire sur la photographie sous-marine. Archives de zoologie expérimentale et générale, t. 1, n. 1, pp. 281-332.
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Jeffrey Gallant is the Editor-in-Chief and Records Keeper of the Diving Almanac. He is also a contributing editor of DIVER Magazine, and the scientific director of the Greenland Shark and Elasmobranch Education and Research Group (GEERG). Jeffrey started diving in 1982.