More than a million selfies are taken each day, according to research by TechInfographics.com. It’s now a word in the dictionary and the 2013 word of the year. It has its own song. President Barack Obama has even taken a few along with countless other public figures, thanks to frontward-facing cameras on smartphones.
But who was the inventor of the popular self-portrait photo type?
Hollywood cameraman Lester Wisbrod claims he invented the selfie in 1981 and has proof: 150 of them taken with celebrities over the years.
The 67-year-old Wisbrod told ABC News he used to whip out his Canon camera every time he saw a celebrity, reached out his arm and flashed a smile alongside stars like Ronald Reagan, Jennifer Aniston, Clint Eastwood and Mike Tyson. Wisbrod said he took “Lesters” — his nickname for the photos — for more than two decades while working as a freelance cameraman from 1981 until he retired in 2005.
— LA Times Photography (@latimesphotos) July 15, 2014
“It just started being a very normal, natural way to take a picture for me,” Wisbrod said. “But I’d stick my arm up to take a picture and people would run up to grab the camera to take the photo and I’d have to dissuade them and say, ‘No, that’s not what I’m doing. Go away.”
Wisbrod notes that selfies weren’t as easy as they are nowadays. The Los Angeles resident admitted that oftentimes the camera would be out of focus.
“To do a selfie at the time, if you weren’t close enough together then the focus would miss you and that’s what happened,” he told ABC News. “It didn’t work, but I’ve since improved my skills, as has everyone else in the world.”
Wisbrod said it all began in 1981 when he met Art Buchwald and used his first self-focusing camera to take a selfie with the humorist. The photo appears blurry, but clear enough to make out Buchwald and Wisbrod.
— John Corrigan (@jtcorrigan) July 15, 2014
One moment Wisbrod vividly remembers was with then-ex-President Reagan, who was caught off guard by the way he approached him for a photo.
“President Reagan, when I took a picture with him around 1989 or 1990, he said, ‘Gosh I’ve never had my picture taken like that before,’” Wisbrod said.
Wisbrod said to this day, he is sure he invented the selfie concept, though friends and family did call them “Lesters.”
“I saw them in TV commercials and in movies and I’d quietly gloat to myself, ‘Hmm, look what I started,” Wisbrod said. “And then I’d have friends emailing me saying, “Look what you started.”
However, he still refuses to use an iPhone to take his “Lesters.”
“The iPhone is too hard to hold for a photo, there’s no grip. I now use a Canon G10.”
Wisbrod posted a video on YouTube compiling the selfies he’s amassed over the years and told his saga to The Los Angeles Times.