(Image credit:Robert Cornelius, via Shorpy)

Posted by Ellen

This photo has been used on the cover of paperback editions of Wuthering Heights, but it's really a self-portrait of a Philadelphia lampmaker named Robert Cornelius. Cornelius apparently didn't comb his hair for the camera, but he can be forgiven because he probably thought the picture wouldn't really come out anyway. He made the daguerrotype in November 1839 out in the yard behind his family's lampworks, on Chestnut Street in Philly, and it is believed to be the first ever photographic image of a human face.. On the back of the picture, Cornelius wrote "The first light picture ever taken, 1839."  Three months later, he opened the first ever photographic portrait studio, but later census reports suggest that he eventually went back into the family lamp business.

A competing claim for portrait primacy has been put forth for a French daguerrotype made by Daguerre himsel, perhaps in 1837, which would be two years before he announced his process for making "light pictures." In 1838, Daguerre claimed in a letter that after several attempts at portraiture, he'd had one success, and some experts believe that one early success is a recently discovered portrait of the painter Nicolas Juet. Early photographic portraiture was difficult because Daguerre's technique required extremely long exposure times, so long that in order to stay perfectly still people had to adopt rigid, artificial, inelegant poses.

Cornelius, who had specialized in silver-plating lamps for the family business, worked on the chemistry of Daguerre's silver-based process and may have achieved some refinements before he made his self-portrait. He is known to have added bromine to the formula. His pose here looks strikingly casual compared to most nineteenth-century portraits, though the arms crossed over his chest may have helped him remain motionless, probably for at least two minutes and perhaps for as long as five minutes.

He does appear to have just stepped out of Wuthering Heights.