CHICAGO — A few weeks ago, I thought that I’d had it with selfies It began with a simple Facebook post declaring: “Just say NO to SELFIES <3 <3 <3.” Less than a week later, I found myself doing exactly what I feared: Alone in a dressing room at Target, I was snapping selfies with my iPhone, selecting the perfect one or two, and uploading them to Facebook. The selfies weren’t over — in fact, they had just begun.
This exploration into selfies begins with the post “I, Selfie: Just Say Yes to Selfies,” and it will continue with a new curated set of images submitted by you. Email your selfie and a very brief explanation of why you shot it and what it means to selfies [at] hyperallergic.com.
This series is part of an ongoing conversation around people working in the medium of the selfie, which has roots in adolescent self-portraiture. These imagemakers are accepting themselves as objects, and reflecting their images back through the smartphone camera lens (and optional, accompanying mirrors). They control the images of themselves that float around these murky virtual waters, but they cannot anticipate how these images will be received or perceived by others who exist in the internet void, a space that we pleasurably and both selfishly and selflessly indulge in.
In the first curated post of an ongoing investigation into the internet phenomenon of the selfie, we present to you five selfies that take a good first look at you, dear internet reader and complicit voyeur. Each one deals with a specific subgenre of the selfie, including the Instagram Selfie, Straight-On Mirror Selfie, Shaded Looks Selfie, the Facebook Profile Pic Selfie, and the Mirror as Object Selfie.
Hello Selfie World, you adolescent house of mirrors! Here are your first five reflections.
Occupation: Student & Pet Stylist
Selfie type: The Instagram
An avid taker of selfies, Aubry notes that for her, the selfie is about holding a mirror up to oneself. This is an Instagram-to-Facebook selfie, which she shot when she noticed that Instagram was starting to get more popular. “That’s when I think I actually started taking more selfies,” she writes to me in a Facebook message. “Made it a bit more comfortable.”
“To me, the SELFIE (using caps here to suggest the pop culture teenager ‘YOLO’ kind of way of making a selfie — more like an affirmation or desire for attention) is a very simple and literal form of self(ie) expression. People tend to take selfies on days they’re feeling positive about who they are and their image to the world. Or in some cases feeling good physically, but not mentally, and need a little pick-me-up. It may come off as a bit self-absorbed at times, but for me it’s an indicator that on this particular day I am doing and feeling well about who I am and where I am at in life. I am able to look back at old selfies and see the change in myself, and remember where I was at mentally at the time it was taken. There was a point in my life where I went through some really difficult challenges and didn’t want a single photograph of myself taken. I have persevered and overcome these struggles and I am no longer ashamed of letting the world see who I am. I have a lot of family and friends on Facebook that I can not see regularly IRL so allowing them to see my transformation, and vise versa, via a single image is important and in a way comforting.”
A Lesbian Who Looks Like Justin Bieber
Occupation: <3 Breaker, Biebs Lookalike
Selfie type: Straight-on mirror shot before a night of partying
The tumbelog Lesbians Who Look Like Justin Bieber perfectly captures the phenomenon of a fluidly gendered adolescence that exists on the internet. On this particular Tumblr blog, we see a variety of lesbians, who may or may not be in their early 20s, curated alongside the real teen pop star, Justin Bieber. In this selfie, the anonymous Justin Bieber lookalike lesbian gazes at their iPhone while snapping a photo of themselves in the mirror. The selfie has roots in real adolescence, and Bieber is one of those teen celebs who is quite experienced in this photo style. This person is one of his devotees, and a practitioner of the selfie as a medium.
Occupation: Student & Bike Delivery
Selfie Type: Shaded Looks
“I’ve been thinking about self-portraiture a lot lately because it seemed to be that up until 2011, I only painted self-portraits. I am trying to discover the blindspots in my personal life when I draw or paint myself — usually my face, but it can be my body or anything,” Colin Weininger says. “I try not to deny the autobiographical parts that often seem to occur in the artistic process. If I do deny those parts, I find that it doesn’t turn out so well. Previously self(ie)-portraiture was a more private and intimate creative painting experience. The more public nature of self(ie)-portraiture has made self-portraiture in general more common, and also makes the previous private experience seem defunct or corny.
“For self(ie)-portraiture that uses the smartphone, there are many apps one can use to manipulate the image — Instagram, Snapseed, LittlePhoto, Pixlr. One can take a picture and make it into something else entirely (or use the original image) and share it to all kinds of social media sites instantly, such as Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter.
“In my work, I am interested in channeling the nostalgia for the time I was painting selfies in private, before they became a public internet novelty. I am still interested in documenting my change over time in a medium like painting that was less transient, and that act has become more difficult over time. The public nature of selifes has reduced their intimacy. Saying that I want to take a self-portrait outside of the internet starts to sound like nails on a chalkboard — annoying and deafening to those who hear me say it.
“For me there is no distinction between a selfie and a self-portrait — it is all self(ie)-portraiture. I think of self(ie)-portraiture as part of a digital sketchbook because I feel like anything digital has an intangible nature, and has a playful, sketchbook-quality element to it. The digital space becomes a place to sort out ideas, whether they be silly or serious. Selfies, being a common form of digital art, are a genre that one can easily work within.
“For me, the selife is definitely more about the present time. When making self-portraiture in a tangible, non-digital medium, it usually takes me longer and I learn more about myself over the period of, say, one month as opposed to a selfie for the internet, which I shoot and upload in just a moment. The selfie becomes a ‘friend’ in the sense that it is an ongoing mirror that reflects back to you who you were at different points in your life. I have probably made like 30 selfies in the past year, a lot of which I seem to delete, but a few have stood the test of time and I like to keep them up FB/Instagram/etc. In-print? None to date, but wow I don’t think I’ve ever even thought about like a selfie giclée print before! Can you imagine?”
Occupation: Artist Hero
Selfie type: The Self-Portrait turned Selfie Through GIF-ification
Some people have rigid definitions of what a selfie is or could be. We are going to trust the kids on this one when they that the exact term selfie is, like adolescence, about expressing a fluid identity. In the space of the teen-girl tumblr aesthetic, where those who engage with the social construction of adolescence prefer to play, this Frida Kahlo gif is most certainly a selfie. Originally culled from the Women as Objects Tumblr project, here we see a classic Frida painting-turned-selfie through the glitchy glamor of gif-ification. And because this now glittertastic image can exist only on the internet, which is the proper context of a selfie or selfie-portraiture, we accept and embrace this image as a selfie, #selfie or even SELFIE (all caps implies a sort of YOLO effect, which suggests that yes, Frida only lived once, but her art continues to live on and inspire creators everywhere).
Occupation: Artist, Founder and Co-Owner of Birdies Panties
Selfie Type: The Mirror-as-Object
On International Women’s Day, when “The Teen-Girl Tumblr Aesthetic*” was blowing up the internet, Honig declared it National Teen Girl Day on Facebook and tagged me, Kate Durbin (co-author of The Teen-Girl Tumblr Aesthetic* and creator of Women as Objects), and Peggy Noland. She is a teen-girl at heart, and much of her artwork deals with residual adolescent vulnerability — like selfies, her artwork allows viewers to observe as voyeurs without trespassing or intruding on these intimate moments. For her self-created selfie, she submitted an image of herself distorted by a shiny reflective silver chair.
“My artist friend and foundations teacher Anne Lindberg offered me some studio furniture in her move to a beautiful home near Ghent, New York,” Honig tells me via email. “I took this selfie in the reflection of her husband’s Phillip Stark Chair. Set among her reams of thread and enormous tapestry drafting table, the chair was a mirror. Annie laughed at how uncomfortable it was after explaining the history of its design. It is part of a collection at the Museum of Modern Art.”
* * *
I, Selfie is a series of ongoing conversations around people working in the medium of the selfie. The selfie imagemakers are accepting themselves as objects, and reflecting their images back through the smartphone camera lens. They control the images of themselves that float around these murky virtual waters, but they cannot anticipate how these images will be received or perceived by others who exist in the internet void, a space that we pleasurably and both selfishly and selflessly indulge in.
Email Hyperallergic your selfie at selfies [at] hyperallergic.com along with a very brief word explanation of why you shot it and what it means to you.