LOS ANGELES — How do we talk about real shit online? In the selfie world, where we become two-dimensional representations of ourselves as we would like to be seen, it’s sometimes not possible to do more than just like, reblog, retweet, ignore, or simply comment. It is a selfie, after all. But some people are getting into deeper selfie questions that are getting serious attention.
Danny Bowman, a 19-year-old in the UK, is in remission from a selfie obsession that nearly ended his young life. In a story of isolation and fear in the digital age, this young boy became completely addicted to snapping and posting selfies. His life was ruled by clicks and likes; in a sense, the internet was his mirror, until, after overdosing on pills and being saved by his mother, he realized that he was more than just his selfie. “Gradually I realised everyone wasn’t looking at me. I didn’t need to check my appearance the whole time,” he told the Daily Mirror.
Up in the Arctic Circle, NATO soldiers shot selfies during a drill called the Cold Response. The soldiers’ selfies position them as celebrities in their own right — a new brand of military heroes, on social media for everyone to see (and reminiscent of the #Instawar aesthetic coming from the Israeli army). For this selfie — I mean, military exercise, 16,000 men and women from 16 NATO countries participated, soldiers with their dogs and their guns. Apparently #selfieduty calls at the same time as real-life duty (no hashtag). Here are other responders, from France, Ireland, Arkansas, and New York.
Loretta Lynn Owens
“This is a selfie I took in 2011. I only just stumbled across it again this week, and it stopped me in my tracks and made me think a lot about what the picture says for me or to me or about me. I took it while in the middle of an eating disorder I developed as part of a long, unhealthy double depression kicked off by grief. I wanted to die, or at the very least be invisible, but every psychologically foul choice I made only got me more recognition — namely in that people started noticing me more, often just to say how ‘hot’ I was getting or to ask me for diet tips. So when I think about this selfie and a series of others taken during that time, I think about my own relationship with my body and about the ‘gaze of the other,’ a desire to hide in shadow, and the entanglements of beauty and ugliness, sexuality and pain. It reminds me of how little outsides have to do with insides and also of how very much they actually are related in turn — how perception is fallible, and how deeply rewarding it can be to experience and create art that incorporates the light and the dark.”
Occupation: Selfie artist
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Charlie Fish’s 1,000-selfie project is as much about understanding his relationship to the celebrities that he grew up idealizing as it is a search for his own identity. Inspired by similar projects like the 1,000 vacation selfies, Fish, a self-proclaimed “selfie artist,” slots his selfies into 10 categories, including “selfies in drag,” “selfies with masks,” “selfies in bed,” “selfies in the mirror,” “selfies in the subway,” and “selfies with lovers.” His goal is to hit 1,000 selfies by the end of the year; thus far, he has 700-some. That’s a lot of self-reflection. Here’s a bit about the project from Charlie:
“I selfie. A lot. It’s as much an exercise in vanity — I am, as you can see, a vain creature — as it is an exploration of a persona.
“As a kid, I thought I wanted to be famous. I envisioned myself on covers of magazines, as a male (and very often female) lead in films, or on tour fronting some rock ‘n’ roll band. Never mind I had no training; I still wanted to inspire in people the same sense of awe that I felt when I would stare at a CD cover for hours, or flip through a magazine to get to a photo spread of my latest icon.
“I’ve been ‘selfie-ing’ for as long as I can remember. Of course it wasn’t called a selfie back then. Back then it was just me trying to emulate my idols by turning the camera on myself. And more often than not, I was sorely disappointed in what I saw. I did not have a model face with symmetrical features. And to be perfectly honest, I struggled with both race and sexuality issues for a long time. I certainly never felt like the camera loved me. I was too Latin or too effeminate in pictures. Or I was unhappy with my nose, my eyebrows, my crooked lip, my teeth.
“But then one day I started to like what I saw in pictures. I guess as you get older, you start to learn to love yourself more. You embrace your flaws. You cut yourself some slack. You give less of a fuck. It doesn’t hurt that you pick up some tips and tricks to fool the camera into loving you.
“Cue the age of the selfie, and the millions of people around the world who turn their cameras and smartphones on themselves.
“I don’t know why they selfie. My guess is that, as is the case for me, it’s an exercise in self-esteem building. Or a desire to have an ongoing visual diary. I only know why I selfie. In addition to the above, it’s because when I look at the finished product, for a fantastical instant I’m a different person: something akin to what my childhood self aspired to be, even if it is just make believe.”
Location: Traveling through the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, New York, and Seattle
“All the images were shot from fall 2007 to fall 2008, during my initial year in Ireland getting my MFA at the Burren College of Art. The first image was taken soon after my arrival to Ballyvaughan, and the final image was taken right before I returned there after spending the summer at home in Seattle.
“I first started taking hold-outs when my life started including a lot of travel, and especially a lot of solo travel. I wanted to have physical proof that I had been to a place. It wasn’t until that initial year in Ireland that the motivations behind my taking hold-outs deepened. My artwork at the time had reached a necessary point of being a means of self-examination, and I used the taking of hold-outs as a tool to help with this.
“When I look at this video I see the arc of my life that dramatic year: from happy and excited to be doing something I had dreamed of in such a magical place, to projects exploring my fears, to traveling throughout Ireland andLondon, to a low and lonely winter traveling through the Netherlands and Belgium with the flu instead of going home for Christmas, to discovering the amazingness of Berlin and hating Prague, to settling into a sort of normal rural life, to returning to Italy. It shows me finally coming back to Seattle for the summer totally heartbroken and choosing to get over it by cutting my hair, buying a whole new wardrobe, and cranking out a thoroughly angry and upset collection of work. The movie ends in my Seattle studio just before I returned to Ireland for my second year. I felt better and was much stronger emotionally and mentally than I had been a year before.
“I don’t know exactly why I decided to make the movie; it just sort of demanded to be made. It was one of the most fully lived time periods of my life, and I am glad to have it saved this way as a reminder of how much better life is when you really live it.”
Location: Highland, New York
“As an act of documenting myself and my studio life, I took this selfie walking from inside my studio to outside on a rainy-snowy day. I was walking out with lot in my mind and bearing a tough winter day. This hat is part of my little collection of hats with ears. Since my work relates to animals and bones, this hat feels very me.”
Location: Poteils et Bresis, France
“I shot this selfie to document a passing moment in time, before the Christmas tree came down; wearing my son’s handmade tinfoil crown, before all would be in the poubelle (garbage) … I would celebrate these things with a photo. I chose this image because I liked the mysterious rainbows of light that enveloped me.”
* * *
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.
Subscribe to the Hyperallergic email newsletter!