Printmaking Was the Original Photography
Jan Lievens etching by Lucas Emil Vorsterman (1530 to 1545). An almost 500 year old selfie.
I had long thought of painting as “what we had before photography” but have revised the idea that photography replaced painting as it replaced printmaking much more. I now realize that printmaking fulfilled the functions of modern photography much more closely. A painting catches our attention for being in color but it is only a single object. Printmaking does the two things photography excels at: it creates multiples through mechanical reproduction.
There is a nice exhibit right now at the Museum of the Art Institute of Dutch, Flemish and Netherlandish portrait etchings from the 15th and early 16th Centuries. Selfies are not new at all; they are just now easy for a huge number of people to make and distribute. One placard in the exhibit stated that the portraits not only confirmed fame, they could also create it. Sound familiar to you?
Seeing so many etching portraits made for circulation made me feel that people of this time period would have loved social media just as much as we do now if they had it. In a way, they did have social media, it was a lot slower. Getting picture out took a great deal of skill, time and paper.