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January 4, 2021

Louis Boutan and the World's First Underwater Selfie, 1893

In 1893, Louis Boutan 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.

Louis Boutan’s self-portrait taken with a Detective camera inserted into a wooden housing designed by himself and his brother Auguste. (Public Domain)

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.

Louis Boutan self-portrait. (Public Domain)

Although the resulting image is highly similar to modern self-portraits, Boutan’s photo was debatably not what is nowadays known as a “selfie,” which instead refers to a self-portrait taken with a smartphone or camera held at arms length, using a selfie stick, or in front of a mirror.


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