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.


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