Articles

Practicing the Art of the Selfie

by Alicia Eler on February 10, 2014

"So apparently these mirrors only talk to you if you have an official Disney princess dress on or a wand in hand. Bea kept trying to find the "magic" in her dress to have the fairy god-mothers come alive as other girls in their plasticky outfits came by." Image by sherrymain via Flickr.

“So apparently these mirrors only talk to you if you have an official Disney princess dress on or a wand in hand. Bea kept trying to find the ‘magic’ in her dress to have the fairy god-mothers come alive as other girls in their plasticky outfits came by.” (photo by Flickr user sherrymain)

LOS ANGELES — How many selfies is too many? From teenagers with cadavers and selfie-snappin’ toddlers to couples taking “couplies“ (just one type of group selfie), the selfie’s possibilities seem as inexhaustible as a history of portraiture. Is it narcissistic to want better devices for shooting selfies, or is it just human nature to want to look your best?

Kids growing up with smartphones and iPads to keep them company are rapidly snapping selfies. Brandi Koskie, a parent profiled in an article by the Associated Press, noted that she’ll often find dozens of photos of her three-year-old on her iPhone. Toddlers are attracted by the shiny screen that offers them a convenient mirror in which to see themselves. Do they understand what a selfie is? Probably not, but they do understand the pleasure of instant gratification.

A high school student in Limestone County, Alabama, was on a senior anatomy class field trip to the University of Alabama at Birmingham when she decided to snap a selfie with a cadaver. According to the Huffington Post, the student “removed the photo from her Instagram feed,” but it was too late — another student had already screengrabbed it and showed it to her sister. This image is being compared to funeral selfies, but in the case of the Alabama high school student, she violated a rule stating that no phones were allowed, whereas with funeral selfies there’s no clear condition. Should there be rules banning smartphones and cameras in these places, or can we trust people to use their judgement about when is an okay time to take a selfie?

This week’s selfie submitters shy away from the big questions, but they do offer us different takes on the evolving art of the selfie.

Gosia Koscielak

Gosia Koscielak's selfie

Gosia Koscielak’s selfie

Occupation: Artist & Designer
Location: Wilmette, Illinois

“This selfie was taken few days ago. It is part of my Eco-social Unism actions.  The idea of eco-social actions integrates my concepts of spatial stimulations — sculpture to infinity and broader aspects of scientific and artistic activities. It represents a new concept of eco-digital environment and new relations between viewers and nature — new digital organic / post-organic explorations. Eco-social sculptures connect natural sciences, social sciences, with art and aesthetics. Eco-social sculptures are a philosophical-artistic-socio-cultural-scientific actions. They represent phenomena and laws of Nature: ‘ …when approached in different ways, nature gives differing answers… ‘”

Ari Richter

Adam's pet selfie

Ari Richter’s pet selfie

Adam could be James Franco

Ari could be James Franco.

Occupation: Artist, educator
Location: Brooklyn, NY

“Nearly all of the selfies on my phone include my dog, Bonita, and there are lots of them. There are more pictures of us than there are of me with my girlfriend of 8 years (sorry, Steph!). I don’t do social media, so these aren’t intended to share with friends or to show off how handsome or cool I am (although I’ve been told that I sort of look like Instagram star James Franco). I don’t find other people’s pet selfies particularly interesting, and there are only about five people in the world who would give a shit to see a picture of me with my dog. Maybe that’s precisely the point. These pics are for personal enjoyment, and there’s little that I enjoy more than time with my pooch.”

Nina Meledandri

Nina's selfie

Nina Meledandri’s selfie

Occupation: Artist
Location: Brooklyn, NY

“As a photographer, I have twice explored the self-portrait. The first time was part of my senior thesis project, where I took a self-portrait every day and wrote something. The end product were monthly handmade accordion journals, with a page for each day’s writing and its accompanying B&W print. At the close of the project, I basically stopped taking self-portraits completely.

“The second time was 30 years later, when I participated in a Flickr 365-day self-portrait challenge and posted the images on an accompanying Tumblr (aptly titled: fast forward 30 years). Once again, when the project ended, I stopped taking pictures of myself. With both these projects I took the (now ubiquitous) camera-at-arm’s-length ‘selfie’ as well as more formal portraits using a self timer. Sometimes I simply shot a body part, sometimes the portrait was a drawing.

“So why did I take this selfie last night? I was in the studio, puttering, watching the Grammys on my iPhone and following along with Twitter when the @jerrysaltz / @jilnotjill / @hragv selfie thread broke out … somehow the situation called for it.  I was going to tweet it but hated it, so I tweaked it but felt that was a tad vain … Basically, it was just a meta-moment; here’s the original.”

Chad Swanson

Chad Swanson's selfie within a selfie

Chad Swanson’s selfie within a selfie

Occupation: Teacher, artist 
Location: Canberra, Australia 

“It is said that every portrait is a self-portrait, so what to make of my portrait of van Gogh’s self-portrait? A selfie within a selfie within a selfie.

“The painting in the background is a painting I did of a Vincent van Gogh self-portrait using Freud’s idea that the self is a battleground between liberation and restraint. I saw that battle in Vincent as he looked at himself, and I saw it in myself as I looked at his self-portrait. My themes of liberation found expression with texture, waving lines, colors and restraint using geometry.

“When I took this selfie I was thinking about selfies in a historical context and in the context of expressing the self in art. I was mindful of the expression that every portrait is a self-portrait so I decided to play on the idea of a play within a play by taking a selfie of a selfie of a selfie.”

Adam Craig

Chad's selfie

Adam Craig’s selfie

Occupation: Virtual public services librarian for Essex County Library
Location: Harrow, Ontario

“The vector faces actually kind of started on a whim. I’ve always really enjoyed playing with Adobe products as sort of a hobby, and Illustrator was the biggest challenge for me. So doing these weird tracings of existing images was (I thought) kind of a neat way to get my feet wet. And then I started actually thinking about what I was doing. The selfie is kind of the pinnacle of digital self-absorption and the pinnacle of digital insecurity. I mean … really … why are we posting pictures of our faces, or of ourselves posing in the bathroom, other than to get nice comments and likes? I think a lot of folks might deny it, but validation is the driver. So what I liked about the idea of making vector selfies is that you can do just about anything with it, to the point where it’s not really you anymore. I can take these blobs of color that make up my cheekbones or eyebrows and stretch them all over the place. I can very very easily change the color of my skin or hair.

“And that’s kind of why I used Illustrator and vectors instead of Photoshop; I thought that as versatile as Photoshop is, Illustrator and working with vectors is more flexible.”

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Email Hyperallergic your selfie at selfies [at] hyperallergic.com, along with a brief explanation of why you shot it and what it means to you.

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