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LOS ANGELES — It’s the end of selfies as we know it. Dearest selfie fanatics, this will be my last story for the Hyperallergic selfie column; after one year of chronicling the selfie’s rise to fame, we collectively decided to let this investigation go off into the netherlands of internet data trails. I want to tell you that this is definitely not the end of my writing about selfies; please do stay in touch! To wrap up the Hyperallergic selfie column, I’m making this a selfie celebration with more selfies than ever before, paired with a concise collection of this week’s most notable selfie news.
NASA had a similar idea with its selfie to end all selfies. Earth becomes a mirror reflecting back a selection of selfie shooters who occupy space on it. A total of 50,000 people submitted their selfies; NASA selected 36,422 to become a part of this global selfie mosaic. As I zoomed through this collection, however, I noticed that the locations on Earth didn’t align with the selfie shooters’ locations. Perhaps because we are constantly traveling, and henceforth becoming increasingly connected as a global culture, the actual location is becoming less important. In this way, selfie location is always optional, and more about a way to connect with others — and to stay connected. The selfie is a way to visually communicate; its specific intentions and intended recipients are up to the one who snaps the picture — unless that same picture ends up on the very public internet, as I suspect this “add a kid selfie” of a woman in the dressing room with her young son likely did.
Speaking of internet leaks, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden took a selfie in Moscow with the journalists who broke the news about NSA’s spying network. Here he is pictured with documentary film maker Laura Poitras, journalist Glenn Greenwald, who was part of the team that won a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for reports on the NSA’s citizen surveillance, and Greenwald’s partner David Miranda. There is no leaking this selfie — it’s posted publicly for all to see, a performative documentation of this Moscow reunion. Yet take a closer look at the gazes in this selfie; Greenwald, Poitras, and Miranda are all looking straight into the camera while Snowden pulls the long arm, and looks at the camera instead of the viewer. He is looking into the smartphone as if it were a mirror, not at you or the internet.
Citizens and tourists alike in Thailand are happily gazing into their smartphones whilst taking selfies with soldiers, tanks, and guns. In Thailand, a country rife with political turmoil, the army chief has declared martial law. Soldiers line the streets, and people are jumping in to take selfie with them, making them appear as props for tourist photos of Thailand right now. Either that or they are taking straight portraits of the soldiers with their smartphones, or asking soldiers to take their photographs on or in front of tanks. The selfies with Thai soldiers appear so spontaneous, playful, and bizarre that it’s easy to forget the military coup.
That was some serious political selfie news, so I’ll throw in another take on the last selfie — a tattoo of a young woman taking a selfie. She’s sporting a quintessential duck face pose in the bathroom mirror, which she captured with her digital camera. This image was then transformed into a tattoo, which is worn by her now ex-boyfriend.
Here’s our final roundup of selfie shooters.
Location: Johnson City, Tennessee
“This image was taken during my two-month winter 2014 artist’s residency at the Vermont Studio Center. Although it may not strictly qualify as a selfie in the traditional sense as there is no mirror or camera pointed at myself, the presence of my shadow on the tree acts as a stand-in for a reflection. This image came from a daily walk that I took along the river near my studio in Johnson, Vermont. It seems appropriate for my life right now — I am not young and I am not old. I feel unformed while reforming, and alone, clarified, and liminal.”
Location: Santa Monica, California
“I was on my way to an opening, but stopped to take a selfie. As always, I didn’t like the photo I took so I cropped in tight. Messing with the color was not typical. But I had just come from an afternoon at the Hammer Museum where I had been completely undone by James Wellings’ Sun Pavilion video. The colors and sound and how it functions as tripwires for memory and emotion were completely transporting for me. That was both an influence on the color and on my state at the time.”
Location: New York City
“I have a video selfie series (self-shot with a mobile device in one continuous shot. Filters/effects added in post) called No Bad Angles, which currently includes: Walking, Dancing, and Sleeping. They are a collection of tampered evidences of the self as a tool to form and/or complicate my identity when my physical body no longer exists. While my offline life will someday diminish, my digital second self will survive in the clouds, or at least traces of it.”
Location: New York City, Turin, and Berlin
“It’s both [a selfie and a self-portrait], it’s a hybrid. 😉 Most selfles are wo/men watching themselves being looked at. Thus turning themselves into an object, and most particularly an object of vision: a sight. Getting pleasure of being looked at. Your selfie, reminds me of the clever use of mirrors the German-born Bing made in her Self-Portrait with Leica 1931, which collapses the distinction between subject and object. Yet, the selfies can be very fascinating because of the spontaneity they are made off most of the time, which gives them a glimpse of the transcendent being we are, overlooking (over boarding) the frame of ego. Now, generally, a self-portrait is already in the supposition of something ‘definite’, at least about the portrayed person, or the position to the observer. In my photography ‘Verklärung’ (the title on reverse 😉 ) there is something enigmatic, unredeemed, which makes it a selfie.”
“So I don’t usually take selfies. Probably because I don’t have a smartphone. I’d like to think this counts as a selfie, though; I was pressing a shutter release, so, technically, I was the one taking the picture. But maybe it doesn’t count because I couldn’t see how I looked like. Whatever, man.
The most significant thing in this photo, however, is the object I’m holding. It’s one of the thousands of blank handmade postcards I left all over Manhattan from 2008–2009 and have been leaving all over Chicago for the past year and a half under the project name Dreams of a City. Each card is pre-stamped, is self-addressed, asks whoever finds it to tell me one thing they dream of doing before they die, and includes a number, which I use to record where I leave each card. If a card returns to me, I refer to my log of numbers and corresponding locations and am able to tell where it was found, piecing together a map of dreams.
This project began as an exploration in breaking down barriers between things like artist and audience, between geographical boundaries, between private and public (letter-writing is intimate — although it’s interesting to note that, with postcards, anyone who intercepts your card can read what you wrote — and here are these people sharing their hopes with me, a nameless, faceless stranger, perhaps emboldened by the safety net of anonymity, or motivated by that very human desire to connect, to be recognized, to know that someone, anyone knows about you).
Now in Chicago, America’s most segregated city, it’s become a manifestation of my own hope to unite the city, connect the city, give a microphone to different voices in the city. It’s become my love letter to the city, made up of hundreds of individual love letters to and of the self.
I guess you could say each card is, in a sense, a selfie.”
Location: New Jersey
“This Carrol Dunham painting is from a private collection. Over the holidays, I house sat for friends of a friend and this was in their living room. I took a few selfies with works by other artists, but this is my favorite. The painting is hung up high on the wall so I had to stand on a bench to get the shot. I love how my coloring matches the painting; it makes me feel like I am part of the work. It’s also a pretty funny composition. I went to Dunham’s opening last year at Barbara Gladstone Gallery. It had been postponed because of the hurricane. Later, I took my some of my students to see the show. It brought back those memories.”
“My cat Lily likes to jump up on my desk and sit in front of my computer, thwarting my ability to get anything done except pay attention to her. She’s my familiar. This is not photoshopped, I got lucky with the angle for the cat/me selfie.”
Art by Athena LaTocha, Wendy Red Star, Marianne Nicolson, Anita Fields, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith & Neal Ambrose-Smith, and more is on view through January 2022.
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A donation of two hundred works includes Jean-Michel Basquiat, Robert Mapplethorpe, Keith Haring, and Donald Baechler.