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Did the Irish priest on board the Titanic take a “selfie”?

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Could Father Frank Browne, the Titanic photographer and war hero, have been the first to take a selfie? The cover of new publication, “The Life and Lens of Father Browne,” shows the subject taking a photo of himself in the mirror at the barber's.

In 1985 Father Eddie O'Donnell found a tin trunk containing 42,000 negatives. They were the life's work of Father Browne. Since then Fr O'Donnell has curated and promoted the collection and is the author of over 20 books of Father Browne's photographs, including the latest tome.

The world first became aware of Father Browne in 1912 when his photographs, taken aboard RMS Titanic, were published in newspapers around the globe. Had he not obeyed a telegram from his Jesuit provincial to 'Get off that ship' at Queenstown {Cobh}, his story might have ended differently.

In 1916 Father Browne joined the British Army as a chaplain, serving with the Irish Guards on the front line during the First World War, and taking photographs whenever possible. He was wounded five times, gassed, and awarded the Military Cross and Bar, and the Croix de Guerre. His commanding officer, Field Marshall Alexander described him as “the bravest man I ever met.”

Throughout his long life Father Browne combined his primary vocation as a Jesuit priest, with a remarkable photographic career. In 1933 he was given free film for life by Kodak in recognition of his skill. He fulfilled many commissions for such bodies as the OPW, the National Museum, the ESB, British Museum, and the Church of England. Interestingly his photographs were used to illustrate Noel Browne's booklet on the Mother and Child Scheme.

By the time he died in 1960, aged 80, many had forgotten Father Browne, and his archive lay undisturbed for 25 years until 1985, when Eddie O'Donnell SJ came across a tin trunk containing 42,000 negatives, on highly combustible cellulose nitrate. The book gives a fascinating account of how the collection came to be preserved.

For more information visit Messenger.ie.

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