LOS ANGELES — I hit the brakes at a stoplight and turn my head to the left. I spot a young woman waiting for the bus. In golden capital letters on her t-shirt, the words WHY NOT shine boldly. I thought of taking a photo of her, but the the light turned green and I made a right to head home. Her T-shirt phrase stuck in my mind — how could it not? I had been contemplating this column since watching Ellen’s Academy Awards selfie break the Twitter retweets record. When it comes to the question of why people take selfies, the answers are endless: for attention, quick social validation from peers, self-promotion, to transform boredom into fascination with the self(ie), and to connect with friends and family online. Says Mark R. Leary, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience and author of The Curse of the Self: Self-Awareness, Egotism, and the Quality of Human Life: “By posting selfies, people can keep themselves in other people’s minds.” The question is, then, why not post a selfie?
Citizens of Manila are on to their selfies. Ranked the “selfiest city in the world” based on a study by Time magazine that looked at photos on Instagram tagged #selfie during the time periods January 28–February 2 and March 3–7 2014, Manila boasted 259 selfie-takers per 100,000 people. According to this study, Manhattan and Miami come in second and third, respectively.
Was the band The Chainsmokers’ new music video #SELFIE shot in a Miami or Manhattan nightclub? And does it matter? The generic club music is overlaid with a bunch of selfies from anyone who submitted them, along with the story of two girls in a bathroom talking about the sexual power dynamics of selfies, texts and the risk of sending private messages that could just as easily become public fodder. Are we living in a post-private age, or is it simply that we live in public and nothing at all is private? Perhaps privacy is a thing of the past that only people over the age of 50 can understand.
ABC News reports on a senior selfies initiative, but taking a look at the #seniorselfies hashtag yields mostly seniors in high school taking selfies. The most serious senior citizen taking selfies is Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who posted this self-portrait he shot 60 years ago for Throwback Thursday (#tbt). It transforms into a selfie now that it’s on Facebook — an image that was once a self-portrait or even a portrait becomes a selfie once it is activated by a social network; then it becomes a networked photograph, a selfie.
Many have since come forth to make group selfies in a similar formation to Ellen’s, such as these protestors in Istanbul who took a shot of their smiling faces from the back of a police van. This new round of conflict between Turkish police and protestors came after 15-year-old Berkin Elvan, who had been hit in the head by a teargas cartridge fired by police while he was walking to purchase bread for his family, died on Tuesday, March 11. He had been in a coma since being struck last June. Citizens came out to voice their anger over this senseless act of violence; there are 14 people in this selfie photo compared to a mere 12 in Ellen’s. Though it’s not an entertainment industry corporate selfie, the activists in this picture are in a sense celebrities in their own right.
Another selfie from the Istanbul protests shows two guys smiling together in front of a mass of police; later, someone took that image and photoshopped the faces of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his son Bilal smiling for the camera. Erdoğan, whose policies provoked the original protests, condemns the masses voicing opposition to his corrupt politics. Don’t forget that everyone is watching.
And now, here are five people who chose to participate in the selfie party:
Occupation: Artist, Professor at Oregon State University
Location: Corvallis, Oregon
“Between 1994 and 2001 I took over 200 pictures of myself when on board an airplane. I used a point-and-shoot camera with an interval timer set to 30 minutes, so I would not know when the photograph would be taken. The camera was pinned to the seat in front of me therefore the project only worked if the person did not tilt his/her seat back.
I genuinely believed that my face morphed and changed shape during flight and I wanted to capture that – hence the photographs had to be taken when I was not expecting them. What they did capture was my intense discomfort about flying. I put them in groups of three to echo the sets of three seats on budget airlines.
I stopped taking as many photographs when the space between the rows of seats became too narrow for the camera to focus. And then September 11 happened, and I would have felt uncomfortable continuing this project. Prior to that – over a period of circa 25 flights only once did a gentleman ask me what I was doing and that was as we disembarked. More images here.”
Location: Phoenix, Arizona
“Have you ever met a woman who just had breast implants? I’ve met many. After all, I used to work in Los Angeles – at the Playboy Mansion, no less. Some women who’ve just had breast implants can’t wait to show you the new boobs. It’s sort of annoying. Almost as annoying as me – except I had mine taken out.
A couple years ago, I had gynecomastia surgery. I went through an instagram show-off phase. Every ‘like’ was an addictive stroke to my ego. I’d jones a bit when I hadn’t had one in a few hours.
Before surgery I felt like a man trapped in a woman’s body trapped inside of a man’s body again. For as long as I remember, I was intensely embarrassed. No amount of theory or correctness could give me the liberation of my personal surgical chopping block.
I stopped clipping and shaving and let all my body hair grow out. I grew a beard and stopped wearing deodorant. Can there be such a thing as a biological male who identifies as male and is just a little bit transgender? I have an affection for the female-to-male pin-up models in Original Plumbing magazine. They’re cute, hairy and buff – bursting at the seams of their top surgery scars with the ecstasy of testosterone.
This sefie is my coming-out as a POST-OP MALE-TO-MALE transexual.”
Location: New York City
“Of course I dressed in a costume for my Halloween Selfie. But more than that. Selfie was born of Facebook’s required Profile Picture. Everyone should have one. Some people show their dog or a High school graduation shot of themselves.I show what I look like that very day.Sometimes i edit , often enough not. But the nature of the beast is that we end up constructing egos on social media. It is half board game and half real.”
Luis Nieto Dickens
Occupation: Artist & Designer
Location: New York City
“This body of selfle series attempts to add another layer of meaning to reflective artwork and to pursue an interaction with the material, surface, texture and history of the pieces.”
By new layer of meaning I mean adding another concept on top of what the artwork already is dealing with. For instance, in the #selfruit series, I’m adding a playful take on the minimalistic color Flavin series by pairing the hues with different fruits.
For the Yayoi Kusama Infinity Room, I created an audio poem (Continuous, Ode to Infinity) that describes the room and explores the infinity of reflection. Hear the poem here: http://nietodickens.tumblr.com/post/66535767026/c-o-n-t-i-n-u-o-u-s-o-d-e-t-o-i-n-f-i-n-i
As for the other selfies, I try to play around with the titles I give them:
Urs Fischer’s mirror pieces at Lever House: S T A P L E — S E L F I E
Isa Genzken’s wall piece: S E L F – P I X E L A T E D (The word ‘pixelated’ was first used in 1982 (at Museum of Modern Art)
McCracken at David Zwirner: S E L F – M O N O L I T H”
Occupation: Writer, Social Media Strategist, Founder & Editrix of ChronicBabe.com
“i run a project called chronicbabe.com – to inspire younger women with chronic illness to kick ass in spite of it. i use photography extensively throughout the project, on the site and on platforms like facebook, twitter, instagram, pinterest and linkedin.
currently, i take a selfie a day as part of veronica arreola’s #365feministselfie project. i love participating because for me as an individual – and for the collective participants – it’s a chance to use a somewhat narcissistic tool to open a window into the reality of women and their daily experience. and for my chronicbabes, it’s a chance for them to see that i’m practicing what i preach, and that i’m a real girl just like them who just wants to live a lovely life in spite of illness. so my photos are quite diverse in style, subject matter, and state of hair cleanliness.”
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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.