Category Archives: Public domain images

Early Selfies 1839 – 1913

selfie-1913The search for the earliest “selfie” (self-portrait, as a photograph) seems to be at full tilt.

One of my favorites is dated around 1900.  It’s shown at the right.  The largest version I can find, online was posted by Sabine Niedola.  (The largest, clear image is usually the first — or one of the first — posted online, and I like to give credit to the person who first found it.)

Frankly, the subject’s features look a lot like my own portraits from the 1980s. I’m also pleased to see her hairstyle. I’ve tried that kind of style — even with ultra-thick hair — and it turned out the same as hers.  So, I wasn’t alone with the “pouf” issue. (I know about “rats” — long, sausage-shaped supports hidden under the hair — for better-looking versions of this style. I just wasn’t that committed to the style.)

Note: Since I posted this, my friend David Locicero pointed out authenticity issues. This may be a hoax or a cosplay photo.

Something looks a little like an outlet, on the lower right side of the photo.  I’m not certain it’s an outlet, but it might be.  I don’t know enough about household hardware from the early 20th century, to be sure.

My bigger question is about the matted photos on the shelves. The double-matted pictures are more consistent with modern-day presentations. In the past, someone who could afford that kind of matting would have framed the photos under glass.

There’s also the question of the light fixture (if that’s what it is) on the ceiling in the reflection.  And, the high quality of the mirror reflection.

But, whether it’s an authentic photo or not, it’s not the earliest “selfie.”

Robert Cornelius, self portrait, ca. 1839. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Robert Cornelius, self portrait, ca. 1839. Courtesy Library of Congress.

One in the running is a self-portrait by photographer Robert Cornelius.  He’s the dashing young man in the photo on the left.

The fashions are, of course, post-Regency, but I still see a little Colin Firth / Pride and Prejudice in that photo.

Ah, if time travel were possible…! (If he came through a time portal, like in Kate and Leopold, I’m sure many women would swoon.)

For good reason, he’s been featured as Victorian Hottie of the Week.

According to some, that’s his own photo from around 1839. Others simply say it’s the first actual portrait photo… taken by an unknown photographer.

It’s difficult to tell.  Many websites give a nod to the Top 25 Most Ancient Historical Photographs as the source of Mr. Cornelius’ picture, and that site says it’s a self-portrait.

You can learn more about him at this FindMyPast.com.au article, Historical ‘selfies’: in search of the world’s first self-portrait photograph.

selfie-1914-Anastasia

Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia

Then there’s the Russian Grand Duchess Anastasia’s self-portrait, on the right, dating to 1913 or 1914.

The Daily Mail featured the picture in a really nice article.

I’d always hoped Anastasia had survived the attack on her family. Alas, DNA evidence suggests otherwise.

Nevertheless, I’m intrigued by the white blurry image in back of her.  Online, that’s sparked some discussion with no firm conclusions.  Very cool.

If you enjoy old self-portraits like these, visit Google or any search engine and look for “oldest selfies” and “earliest selfies.”  You’ll find plenty, right now.  (I’m not thrilled with the term “selfie,” or that it’s the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year for 2013, but if you’re looking for early self-portraits, the term makes online searching much easier.)

Just watch out for faux historical selfies, created with the aid of Photoshop.

 

While I’m Talking About Public Domain…

Never underestimate the value of the U.S. government when it comes to surreal and absurd images, many of which are in the public domain.

I mean it.  And, if you’re easily offended or the subject of VD bothers you, avert your eyes.

1940s poster from the U.S. government (Artist, "Christian")Seriously, this poster (at right) appears to be in the public domain.  (See notes at the U.S. National Library of Medicine.) You can download a 4MB copy of it at the gov’t website.

I can see so many very wrong uses for that image.  I’d like to put it on a tee shirt, except that I want to replace the VD words with… something else.  I’m not sure what, yet.

I look at her and think, “Really? I mean really? Is that what men found alluring in the 1940s?”

However, that’s not the only image of its kind. A search at the gov’t website using the phrase “venereal disease” turns up all kinds of strange posters of apparently dangerous women.

She may look clean...Check out the sweet girl in the poster on the left.  (Click on the image for the full, print-quality image at the NLM.)

Wasn’t she a famous movie star?  She looks really familiar… like someone I’ve seen in old movies.  Well, now we know about her history! *LOL*

I’m amused by the phrase “‘good time’ girls.”  It makes me wonder, were there “bad time” girls?

That poster is in the public domain.

1944 - beware waterThe next poster for your consideration (or amusement) is about clean water.  Gosh, it looks like our boys were dealing with all kinds of dangers in the 1940s… wasn’t war enough?

Because that was produced specifically for government use, I’m pretty sure it’s in the public domain.

Click the image to see a really large copy of it.  There may be even bigger versions in the NLM files.

(Of course, if you’re going to use it for a product, it’s smart to research the provenance at the NLM website.)

And, so it’s not all one-step-away-from-zombies, at left is an early poster that has a lot of possibilities if you’d like to alter it for a political statement.

This one is from 1917, so it’s almost certainly in the public domain.  (Most — but not all — American works from before 1923 are now in the public domain.)

If you have questions about copyright law and what’s in the public domain, one of my favorite resources is Cornell’s chart about copyright terms and limits.

If you’re really concerned about the details of copyright law and art, the following book is one of the most complete (and recent) to address this complex subject.

Copyright and Free, Royalty-Free Resources… again!

Dripping data? (CD image by Matthew Bowden, UK)Many people — perhaps most people online today — aren’t aware of how copyright laws apply to what’s on the Internet.

I know no one who deliberately breaks copyright laws.  They’re just misinformed, or misguided by how they see copyright laws ignored online.

Often, people believe that anything online is okay to borrow, at least for personal or one-time use.  After all, everyone else is doing that… right?

I understand. Until you’re caught, there’s probably no reason to think twice about using someone else’s images, especially if those images aren’t clearly marked with a copyright symbol.

So, I don’t want anyone to feel as if I’m pointing a finger.  I’m not.  I deal with this subject constantly, and I’m very aware of how popular misunderstandings are when it comes to copyright law.

I’M NOT A LAWYER

I’m not an attorney.  My interpretations of the law are my own opinions, not legal advice.  To get adequate legal advice, you’ll need to speak with an attorney that deals in trademark and copyright law.

However, even judges don’t seem to agree on copyright law.  How harshly you’re treated, if caught, can vary from one courtroom to the next.

WHY I CARE

I’m an artist.  Since the mid-1990s, when I created my first website — gosh, was that really over 15 years ago? — my own images have been stolen.  The tragedy is, I usually give permission when someone asks, first.  I was thrilled when one of my original photos was used for a record album cover; the band asked permission and I gave it freely.

When I find someone using one of my illustrations illegally, I approach them directly.  Most people quickly (and apologetically) remove the image from their websites.

However, a few balk.  They insist they bought the image from someone else, as part of a package, so they think the image is in the public domain now.  Or they found the image at Flickr.  Or something.

Then I have to contact the person’s website hosting service, and the usual result has been: The hosting service shuts down every website that person has.  They’re banned.  Nobody’s happy, and it didn’t have to conclude that way.

I’ve written several popular articles about copyright, the “three stroke” myth, and how copyright law affects artists.  Some of that information may apply to you.  My original article is at http://aisling.net/copyright-and-the-three-stroke-rule/ , along with several other copyright-related articles.

I also teach artists, including photographers, how to protect their images so they can prove they’re the original creators of the respective works.

It’s a simple technique: I remove about 1/2 inch on at least two sides of the original image, before I post it online.  When the hosting service asks me to prove it’s my original graphic, I can show them the larger version that has never appeared online. So far, that’s always worked for me and for my students.

Others use techniques such as digital watermarking: http://www.digitalwatermarkingalliance.org/default.asp

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Okay, maybe you shrug off copyright laws.  If you don’t know anyone who’s been caught “borrowing” images, and you don’t know the anguish of having your own work stolen, maybe it’s no big deal.

However, there is new software in production — I’ve heard that it’s in beta right now — and it’s designed to identify images being used illegally online.  Art museums facing budget crunches are especially interested in using this technology to protect their images, online.

As it was explained to me: The basic technology is similar to how cameras “know” where faces are in the photos, and always make sure they’re in focus.  Or, software that now replaces unattractive faces in family photos, and instantly fills in with a better face (from another photo) in the same size & location.  (I’m sure you’ve seen the ads on TV.)

Similar software recognizes distinctive elements in your original graphics and — through Google Images, Flickr, Facebook, etc. — scours the Internet looking for any matches.  Once you’re caught by someone who has deep pockets or an attorney with whiplash mentality… heaven help you.

We’re fast approaching a time when you’re playing a dangerous game if you’re using photos or other artwork without permission.

USE LEGAL IMAGES INSTEAD

There is no reason to use illegal images in any product, including website design.

There are many great, public domain images online.  Pre-1923 images are generally (but not always) safe to use.  You can find them online; Wikipedia often features gorgeous public domain images by famous artists such as John William Waterhouse.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_William_Waterhouse

Many (but not all) works on the United States’ government website are in the public domain.  http://www.usa.gov/Topics/Graphics.shtml

Some modern-day graphic artists & photographers have released some or all of their rights.  Some websites include modern, public domain photos, such as http://www.4freephotos.com/

You can also find great, legal images — with various licenses to use them — via Creative Commons: http://creativecommons.org/image/

There are many great resources for free, completely legal, royalty-free images.  (Remember: The images are still copyrighted. You’re simply given permission to use the images without paying a fee.)

Stock.xchng is one of my favorites.  Just be sure to search with “Restricted OK” set to “NO.”  http://www.sxc.hu/

Morgue File (not what it sounds like), also called MFile, is another great resource.  Like Stock.xchng, be sure to check the licensing terms for each image.  http://www.morguefile.com/

Most free, royalty-free websites also offer higher-quality images for a fee.  The fee can be as low as $1 with unlimited use rights, and that often depends on the size of the image you want (for online or print use) and whether you’ll be reproducing it on tee-shirts, coffee mugs, etc.

Or, if you found an image — like one of mine — through an image scraper or photo-sharing site, you can find the owner by doing an image search at Google.  Free browser plugins like Search by Image for Google make it right-click easy.  Then, ask the owner for permission to use the image in your project.  Many of us are happy to say yes.

The best idea of all?  Take your own photos.  Practice makes perfect (or at least good enough), you don’t need to get a photography degree… though you could.  And, once you’re comfortable with your camera, consider adding your photos to sites like iStockPhoto.com and earn money from them.

Don’t feel bad if you’ve been using images without permission. 99% of the people I teach or consult for have no idea they’ve been doing anything wrong. This includes respected artists including photographers and illustrators.

What’s important is to use legal images as much as you can, starting right away.  The Internet is always changing, and copyright law is becoming a far greater issue across the online community.

Besides, there is no reason to copy others’ graphics without permission.  There are many wonderful, free resources for great images.  Use them instead.

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