A self-portrait by Canadian artist AA Bronson from his Mirror Sequences (1969-70) series. (via mit.edu)

A self-portrait by Canadian artist AA Bronson from his Mirror Sequences (1969–70) series (via mit.edu)

CHICAGO — The selfie is a mirror, an illusion of a mirror, an egotistical moment wrapped in time, and an embarrassing moment post-shave. But there is something curious about seeing your doppelgänger reflected back at you rather than running into him or her on the street.

Just the other day I was sitting at a local cafe and one of the baristas ran up to me, excitedly telling me that she knew someone who looked just like me. Pleased to hear that I had a doppelgänger somewhere in this vast city, I asked her if she knew the person’s name,  who she was, or where I could find her. The barista couldn’t remember but promised me that, when she did know, she would report back. “I love having twins everywhere,” I told her. But was the person she spotted actually a doppelgänger, or was this a false memory? And what if, when I meet this person who supposedly looks like me, she doesn’t actually look like me to me, but my barista friend sees  the two of us as lookalikes?

Sometimes these doppelgänger moments are best kept between oneself and one’s mirror-induced image. That’s why this week’s selection of selfies ponders the more existential aspects of the phenomenon, asking whether the mirror is your friend, foe, or false memory, and if it produces within you the notion of a doppelgänger or the possibility that such a person is in fact out there — you just haven’t met them yet.

Jackie/Jacqueline Tong / 唐文曦

Jackie/Jacqueline Tong / 唐文曦 doing the Spectacle Selfie

Occupation: Hong Kong–based arts & culture writer
Selfie type: Spectacles Selfie

“My selfie doesn’t mean much to me. It’s pure superficial ego. I even think it’s redundant for those who care about me and see me from time to time anyway. People might think, ‘Oh Jackie/Jacqueline/唐文曦 looks cool/ugly/not her/so her’ for a few secs, ‘like’ or boo at the Facebook status, and they forget about it. Also, I don’t really like my face; it’s boring — that’s why I put myself behind the phone. My glasses are way more interesting. I prefer that tantalising bit of my glasses. Hahaha~ I think I intrinsically look rather uninteresting (which is ok, because I have a life, i.e. I don’t photoshop my own face or go get plastic surgery).

“Nowadays media is image — simulacra. It’s very vacant, at times stupid, but pathetically and hypnotically influential. I associate the self with the concept of ‘doppelgänger’ because I find nothing genuinely real these days. The self is quite contrived. But then the unreal is fascinating at the same time and can possibly be self-enhancing if one ‘likes’ one’s own image enough. That ‘unreal’ is a projection of desires. Selfies are just ‘doppelgängers’ in different forms/styles. We’re so banal and bored (and repressed). Quoting from Chris Walla in the book Doppelgänger: ‘Confronted with our significantly more banal everyday life, we’re measuring our actual selves against our online selves with hopeful resignation[.]’

“On the flip side, there’s also this very ‘real’ element that selfies on social media can help you socialize in real life, so I don’t think the line can be drawn so clearly between the real self and the self. After all, it’s still your real face in a self. Our idea of the ‘authentic self’ is rather tricky. I’m not sure how to explain the motivation other than insecurity and selfie being a form of ego-booster. And connecting one’s image to another’s person’s eyes — make connection with another person — to be ‘liked’ or maybe, to be ‘loved.’”

Sofia Leiby

[image has been removed at the request of the artist and with the permission of the author]

Occupation: Artist
Selfie type: Studio Selfie

“Here’s a selfie from March 12, 2013. I occasionally take ‘studio selfies,’ and am interested in this gesture by the artist. I had a friend who did a project where he would dress up in drag to paint, to see if it made the paintings different. I think of this as weirdly similar: if I look like complete shit, I don’t think my paintings will come out well. So maybe that’s why I sometimes ‘check out’ myself in the third person to see how I’m looking, even though it was unlikely I interacted with anyone in the studio (except maybe my studiomate, and we had opposite schedules.) I took this in the disgusting bathroom at my studio in West Chicago. If I leave the studio dizzy, or feeling zoned out, I consider it to be a successful work day: I was able to get out of my head for a couple of hours. My expression in this photo indicates, looking back, that this shot was taken on one of those days just as I was getting ready to bike home.”

Patrick Carberry

Occupation: Professor of English, Harper College
Selfie type: The Video Selfie #SELFIE

“This video essay was born one lazy afternoon when I opened the Photobooth app on my Mac, held down the left arrow, and watched as the pictures flicked in reverse to incrementally reveal the person I was three years ago when I purchased the computer. Up until that point, I had never revisited any of these images, never considered the deeper and underlying reasoning behind my desire to capture them. My initial thoughts were of the necessity and utility of selfies in the age of digital communication (Facebook profile, Gchat avatar, etc.), but very few of those Photobooth pictures were actually taken for that purpose. It wasn’t until I began filming other subjects (almost all of whom were strangers I approached on the street) that I found a different and more nuanced explanation of the selfie.

“While very few people actually said ‘no’ to being filmed, the consenters had two different responses to my strange request of: ‘Hey, can I film you holding up a selfie?’ The first camp said, ‘Oh, Jesus. My phone is filled with them.’ The more skeptical subjects said, ‘Well, I only take selfies when I am trying on clothes/when I am holding my cat/when I’m with my girlfriend/for Snapchat.’ Both answers seem to be a way of coping with the embarrassment of admitting to taking selfies, but I wasn’t entirely sure what was all that embarrassing. I wrote and filmed the essay to try to unpack that embarrassment, to defend the act of self-documentation.”

Jefferson Godard

Jefferson Godard, “Selfie in a Rem Koolhaas”

Occupation: Gallery owner, Aspect Ratio Projects
Selfie type: Designer Selfie

“I love the baroque absorptive properties that convex mirrors possess,” Jefferson Godard tells me via email. He snuck this selfie in Paris at a chic eatery called Le Dauphin, which was designed by Rem Koolhaas. “They distort space and the viewer while creating an illusion of space at the same time. It is like design narcissism in a completely surrealistic yet modernist tone. For me, it was an unbelievable moment that I was having, going overseas for an artist of mine, Chelsea Knight, who was showing at a major institution. In a last minute/night before moment, I took the advice of a friend that had recommended the neighborhood to me. Not finding any restaurants that had open tables I was recommended to try this place by a nice chap. This last minute decision to dine at a hot little brasserie was intensified when I found out that the space was designed by an even hotter architect! The food was great, but I felt that I had to seal the deal and get a shot in. Also, I wanted to see how distorted this experience made me … ”

Heather Marie Vernon

Heather Marie Vernon, “Mirror Magnification Selfie”

Occupation: Artist
Selfie type: Mirror Magnification

“Caught in the mirrors, I either attempt to see myself as others see me, or I get seduced myself in the reflective play by play. I am seized in the pursuit of illusions, so there really is no pussyfooting around here. Is the illusion my only friend? Is a young girl or woman’s key to self-understanding in this struggle to own, control, and manipulate this image of her ‘selfie’? Or is this ‘selfie’ reflection a setup? Within feminist narcissism can this be redefined as an empowerment aid for self agency and efficacy? Thus is the ‘selfie’ a philosophical tool for an existential experimentation to prevent dissociation, in our mediated culture, and is this therefore an important illusion for everyone? Do we need to say, I am here, can you see me, because when I am seen, then that is when I am more real? Is the growth of the ‘selfie’ a more humanist app then a commodity fetishist’s wet dream? In our desire to reflect more than we are, what are we really truly saying in our manipulative chase?”

“Mirrors should think longer before they reflect.” —Jean Cocteau

*   *   *

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 brief explanation of why you shot it and what it means to you.

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Alicia Eler

Alicia Eler is a cultural critic and arts reporter. She is the author of the book The Selfie Generation (Skyhorse Publishing), which has been reviewed in the New York Times, WIRED...