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Thoughts On Selfies


*my favorite selfie
Lately there's been a lot about selfies online; selfie being the term for a casual self portrait often snapped with a camera phone. How will we be remembered as a "selfie generation" and then a defense of selfies from various artistic perspectives; ie self portraits have always existed only now there is greater availability to the production of said portraits via computer and camera phones. In a way, we are removing portraits from an elitist position--instead of way back in the day needing the funds to commission a portrait or paint one, or the financial means to pay for a session with a photographer or invest in a nice camera, literally anyone can document themselves with electronics they already possess. The urge for a portrait has always existed, it's just so much easier now.
My biggest questions for those anti-selfie is "why does someone else taking your picture making it a valid?" and "since when did self portraits deserve a bad reputation?" Now, let's first acknowledge there's a huge range of quality in self portraits. Nearly every picture I've posted on the blog in the past six years is a self portrait, but since they are outdoors and I use a self-timer few people call them "selfies." Yet, essentially they are. When we talk about self portraits by Van Gogh or Frida Khalo we are once again talking about a different level of quality than someone snapped their own picture in a dressing room with "duck face." In some ways it is hard to compare a time-consuming painting that takes days, not to mention prior sketches to decide on angle, color, and composition, and a mediocre picture snapped without more sensitive consideration that takes seconds.
However, I find the critique often goes back to the inherent narcissism in self-portraits rather than a question of quality. People aren't writing articles about how today's selfies lack all appreciation of the 'rule of thirds' and how the subjects often fail to "capture the light" but instead focus on how self-absorbed the subject must be. Even though I like the creative aspects of composing a shot and finding a beautiful location to feature in a post, apparently it's vain to take a picture of yourself on a regular basis. Even though this is a huge source of income for me and I essentially do the same job of a photographer, stylist, and model for a lookbook or magazine (by myself), my images are less valid than those of a professional model who isn't accused of vanity to do her job. (This isn't a defensive post because I've been accused of being vain, I merely find it easiest to discuss a subject when I can put it on a personal level and use "I" and "me" terms rather than hypotheticals.) I find that concept slightly baffling when I actually prefer the creative control of shooting myself over modeling for someone else--I find the whole experience less satisfying when I'm just posing for a friend or even on rare occasions a professional, because I don't get to engage my artistic side. I've also seen a number of personal style bloggers transition into photographers or stylists, shooting weddings or even being hired in the fashion industry for projects and editorials.
Sometimes the drive for self-portraits is a drive for practice. How many selfies show off new DIY nails or makeup techniques; how many fashion bloggers snap pictures of themselves because they don't have access to models to style or photograph? Self portraits are easier in terms of the fact your body is always available to you; this is also a common practice dating back to early paintings--even in the 1400s you see inserted self-portraits, or the artists hidden as "extras" in large scenes, like Piero della Francesca in Resurrection or Masaccio in frescoes of a chapel. This could be because you are limited by your region or your finances or your skill set and sometimes the best practice (and means of getting your passions and name "out there") is through trying those styles on your own body and photographing it either through the complicated method of a camera, tripod, and remote/timer or simplistic style of a mirror shot with your iPhone.
I suppose in many ways I belong to the "in defense of selfies" camp, hardly surprising considering my blog, but my biggest crux with the naysayers isn't that I think selfies are inherently worthwhile and "it's our camera phone we can do what we want," but the lack of nuanced critique for this generation and selfies. People might stereotype models, but no one claims they're vain for waking up and getting photographed for a living. No one seems interested in the fact that self portraits have always existed and the fact it's more commonplace today might be as much about accessibility rather than a shift in priorities. And there is no attention paid to the valid use of selfies as a creative outlet or form of practice for various skill sets. So while not every selfie is a work of art, the act of self portraiture is completely valid.

17 comments:

Angela said...

My friends make fun of me so much for taking "selfies" for my blog and I think you present a really good discussion on the validity of "selfies" and the need to talk down to those who take "selfies". I also enjoy that picture you put at the bottom of the post. Brilliant.

Danielle said...

You make a good point of the artistic validity and also availability of one's own body and face for self-portraints. When I was a teenager I would take self-portraits a lot more often because there was a certain idea or scene that I wanted to convey but had no available model to pose for me. I also had a lot of friends that were camera shy. I recently started my own art and personal style blog, and though the idea seemed very exciting and interesting, a part of me realizes the idea of vanity that comes along with it. This is part of the reason why I am afraid to step outside of my comfort zone of home when taking self-portraits. Yet when I see you post photos in such beautiful places, it helps me feel inspired to just go out there and not care what other people think and just do it anyway because I enjoy it! Thank you for your thoughts on this, and I enjoy the pictures at the end as well. :)

Sonya Mann said...

I have yet to hear a critique of selfies that wasn't rooted in misogyny. And also, honestly, what's wrong with vanity? I fail to see any problem with being self-absorbed or generally into yourself--it seems like a GOOD thing for people to think that they're cool. So yeah, go selfies! This was an awesome post.

Nikki Williams said...

i love this post! you always put things so eloquently

xxoo,
nikki

www.dreaminneon.blogspot.com

Indy said...

This is a wonderful post.

Anonymous said...

Great post! Thank you.
Your many pictures are always fun to follow (your smiles especially)!

I must say that some selfies that capture the outstretched arm of the photographer holding his camera phone are not as interesting, nor the shots of a selfie in the bathroom mirror of the phone and all.

I much prefer the portrait shots in the vein of your postings and so many others.

Mint Julep said...

THis kind of put a smile on my face and made me laugh - not in a bad sense, mind! - because I have been the queen of selfies since I got my first mobile with a camera, back in 2005. It wasa great camera, the one on tha phone and I took some amazing selfies back then with it. I admit that I am rather narcissistic and vain - therefor the selfies, constantly - but I am also a bit of a control freak. I do not make a living out of my blog - much on the contrary, actually - but I do blog my looks, taking pics of myself in front of a mirror with my phone, which is NOT an iphone, and thus making it even more of an offense to those naysayers. I have been told I shouldn't keep on blogging because my selfies lack quality, and they are ridiculous mostly because I am standing in front of a mirror holding a phone. But there is a reason I keep on blogging my outfits, and it is not vanity, it is not to showcase the latest fashions, it happens to be because I am an unemployed stay at home mother who most of the time lacks the money to buy the latest trends, but goes and makes the most of what she already has at home, bringing clothes that are from seasons ago into a more current fashion, besides being fat and insisting on not conforming to fashion rules for fat people ;) I do dream of being some kind of reference and inspiration for other women like me, women who do not own expensive cameras, nor the latest trends, nor all the brands, women who are not 20 something anymore, women who are not a size 0 anymore... because in fact, how many of these women are out there blogging their looks? Most of them are part of the naysayers, since my own generations is a highly judgemental one when it comes to this kind of blogs and selfies. Sad but true.
http://fashionfauxpas-mintjulep.blogspot.com

Leah M. said...

Rebecca, thank you for touching on this subject. This is something I have been thinking about, too. As someone who majored in Photography in college, self-portraits were a valid form of self-expression. Many times, I had no available models to photograph-with the exception of myself. So for me, self-portraits made sense as I was a willing and available model (of course) and also they were a way to delve into my neuroses and look closer at the parts of my personality that I didn't want to think about on a daily basis. I found the self-portraits I made then (and now) to be therapeutic. As someone who struggles with my self-image (as I'm sure most people can attest to) self-portraits are a way for me to confront my sometimes unhealthy body image.

MJ Wonderlander said...

This was really thought provoking thanks!

larkspurshoppe said...

this is such a great post!! thank you!!

Albert Huberts said...

Hear hear, finally a well written article in favour of the selfie phenomenon! I myself are fascinated by selfies and I have a website on which I categorize twitter avatars among which are many selfies. I find it especially amazing how people take exactly the same selfies. A few examples from my website:

http://www.avadenticals.org/categories/81.-bubble-gum
http://www.avadenticals.org/categories/86.-fist
http://www.avadenticals.org/categories/23.-diagonal-girl
http://www.avadenticals.org/categories/61.-headset
http://www.avadenticals.org/categories/75.-hand-on-mouth

Wednesday said...

I think it is all about intent. Vanity is based on the need of attention. If your photos all contained that desperation to be noticed, to be commented on, to be adored then they would come across as vain.

Your photos have never come across that way.

The bad ones are like the message board troll who seeks attention and adds nothing to the dialog.






Wednesday said...

P.S.

That's an amazing photograph.

Louisa Council said...

I found this refreshing and enlightening. I competely agree with you. I take selfies too and I had never thought of my blogging as selfie and it totally is. Very interesting kudos!

Miranda said...

i just hate the word "selfie." of course taking a picture of yourself is the norm on the net thanks to myspace and other social media back in the day, and is even more prevalent thanks to smartphones.

"selfie" is a fairly new term, and i'd be okay if it disappeared as quickly as it came about!

(i also hate words like sammies. it's a sandwich! my reaction to such -ies words is like people's aversion to "moist" haha)


renata said...

I agree with you. I've been taking my selfies since i got my first digital camera. In first place, i wanted to take people's pics and there were no models around among my friends and family, but, as i started i found out how much i needed to explore this subject, explore my face, my body, my ability to express myself in front of a camera... I've always done painted and draw my portraits, i think it's really interesting to think and try to represent yourself in images. It's not just your face or body, it's something you want to say about yourself. I think that's art! You, alone with yourself, trying to find out what's inside and what comes out. The "bad" (maybe) selfies are those just taken for fun with no artistic intentions, just snapped, not thought, not emotional... But, who can say they're not valid?

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for writing this! This is EXACTLY what I try to tell people who are 'anti-selfie.'
It seems to me, that there are two main reasons people are so judgmental of self-portraits: one is because the majority of 'selfies' are not of artistic quality; two is because people are jealous. (Clearly, this is purely speculation based on the behavior and comments of said 'selfie-haters that I have witnessed.)
While a lot of 'selfies' are completely void of any artistic value, there are so many self portrait photographers out there that are fantastic and inspiring! I don't think the quality of a photo should be discredited merely because it's subject is yourself. And sadly, some people are just jealous because they are not creative enough to turn a self-portrait into a beautiful image. Or perhaps they are overly self-critical and transfer the negative feelings they have toward themselves onto others who seem more self-confident.
I have quite a few friends who are VERY vocal about how much they hate 'selfies,' and I really feel that it's not their place to tell others what kind of photographs they ought to take. At the end of the day, if our photos don't hurt anyone, then it's no one's business to dictate or criticize what the subject of your photos are or for sharing them. If they don't like it, they don't have to hit the 'like' button.
Thank you again for writing this, it was the best blog post I read all week.