Napolean Dynamite sneaks a selfie. (via Tumblr)

Napoleon Dynamite sneaks a selfie. (via Tumblr)

CHICAGO — This week’s selfie series is curated entirely from submissions that you, dear internet reader, sent to me through the selfies [at] hyperallergic [dot] com email address. I was wondering if you’d accept the challenge to write, and indeed, you did. Thank you. You are fearless.

Selfies are oddly personal, and we don’t know each other. But now I’ve looked you in the eye through a computer screen, and honestly, I do feel like I know you a bit better. It’s like we’ve crossed paths before on a crowded street in New York, at a party in Los Angeles, at a truck stop somewhere off a deserted highway en route to a Midwestern city.

Really, we’ve only seen each other through the internet, a place of virtual highways that don’t produce smog but a sort of cyborgian citizen weariness — quick looks, glances, gazes, moments of quiet connection, epic disconnection. I looked back at you a bit too long, and that’s why you’ve appeared in this post. Is that so wrong — to want to be noticed, to ask people to see us the way we see ourselves? Some believe that selfies are all just mediated versions of our own narcissism in a culture of hypernetworked late capitalism. That’s a pretty easy answer to the more complicated question of the self and the selfie. Is wanting to connect or asking for attention selfish? Or is it just one selfie to another, looking for a subtle moment of affirmation?

Cynthia Newcastle

Cynthia Newcastle, “Sneak a Selfie”

Cynthia Newcastle, “Sneak a Selfie”

Occupation: Unemployed college student, age 21
Selfie type: Sneak a Selfie

“This was taken on June 21st while a friend ducked into a 99-cent store while on our way to a dog beach. Feeling self-conscious, I took this in the hopes that the camera would be a more forgiving mirror than the mirror itself. Selfies have often served that same purpose for me, as well as the actual posting of them online. Finding the mirror a harsh and unfair judge, I pose sardonically for an audience of critics, both real and imagined.”

When I asked Cynthia how long she has been taking selfies, she told me: “Since my first phone at age 15.”

Patrick S. Tighe

Patrick's Selfie Alike Photo

Patrick S. Tighe, “Mirrored Selfie Ritual” (after the first selfie post)

Comment from the first I, Selfie post

Comment on the first “I, Selfie” post

Occupation: Works at Whole Foods, holds a BFA in sculpture from the Cleveland Art Institute
Selfie type: Mirrored Selfie Ritual

“I commented on the [first Hyperallergic selfie] article because I thought it’d be somewhat cheeky to complete the ritual, or continue the feedback loop or whatever, but also because I genuinely saw that shirt (I know it was in the women’s section and there was a green version) at Target and I genuinely liked it. Didn’t expect to hear back from the writer, and only after did I consider taking a selfie. I accepted the challenge of taking a selfie in the seahorse shirt. However, two Targets later, I have no seahorse selfie. Sold out. Popular item, I guess. So I quit the challenge, went to Kohl’s (close enough), and then bought a safe grey shirt. I got back to a friend’s bathroom. I don’t own a smart phone, so I used my iPad Mini. After a minute of unintentionally taking short videos, I’m content with this.”

When I asked him how he felt about the iPad Mini versus the iPhone, he said: “I would say iPad Minis are not optimal for selfies. All the nuance and all the button detail of such a high-quality grey shirt is missed behind this bulky, cumbersome device.”

Molly Lisenco

Molly Lisenco

Molly Lisenco, “Simple Ego-Boost Selfie”

Occupation: Actor and performer, but since that doesn’t always pay the bills, Molly also works at a call center in Midtown Manhattan
Selfie type: Simple Ego-Boost Selfie

“Why I took my selfie: that’s a pretty deep question for such a seemingly shallow topic. It seems that in a society where instant gratification via social networking is almost vital to our everyday survival, I guess in the simplest way it’s an immediate little personal ego boost. Whether it’s about others appreciating your looks, style, outfit of the day, and vibe or just the ability to be narcissistic and admire yourself for a bit, it’s just a nice warm feeling. And in a day and age where it’s hard to take the time to appreciate you, why not indulge a little bit?”

Later on, via email, I asked Molly if the selfie gave her the little ego boost that she was hoping for, and why she thinks it helps to have people “like” or “favorite” an image.

“For some reason it seems that it always helps to have people ‘like’ an image,” she wrote. “I’m not really sure why, but it’s like we measure our self worth in ‘likes.’  It’s almost like a physical tangible representation that people appreciate us.”

Jessica Rubenacker

Jessica Rubenacker's "Reclaiming the Unibrow Selfie - Early Adolescence & Now"

Jessica Rubenacker, “Reclaiming the Unibrow Selfie – Early Adolescence & Now”

Occupation: Seattle-based exhibit developer
Selfie type: Reclaiming the Unibrow Selfie

“Often times selfies are used to document, typically a new look — a new haircut, new makeup, new glasses. For me, this selfie was used to document the return of an old look: my unibrow. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with my eyebrows, or eyebrow, rather, over the years. Childhood was particularly difficult because of it. Here’s a photo from early adolescence; it was shot in a photo booth, which is a precursor to the present-day smartphone selfie of me that you see on the right. My mother was against facial hair removal and would only allow me to bleach my unibrow, resulting in an orange tuft of hair between my eyes for the majority of junior high school. Kids are cruel. Today, I am embracing this physical feature of mine, deeming 2013 ‘the year of the unibrow.’ For the last three months, I’ve been slowly growing ‘in’ my ‘uni’ — this photo documents the homestretch.”

Stephanie Cardi

Stephanie Cardi's "15 Minutes of Fame" Selfie

Stephanie Cardi, “Acknowledging Change Selfie”

Occupation: Student at NYU, MA Visual Arts Administration ’13
Selfie type: Acknowledging Change Selfie

“This selfie, taken on a Friday afternoon after a most satisfying good hair day, was taken for others to see and like. Surely there was a high expectation for someone in particular to acknowledge my best side, and so they did, like many others. What I wasn’t expecting, though, was a specific comment on Facebook made by an old friend of mine: ‘This doesn’t even look like you.’ There it was, that comment … that acknowledgement that I indeed was a different person. But was I really? Was I trying to prove myself to others … or simply prove something to myself? It had been a year since I moved from the utterly provincial Rome to the amazing New York City, core of many hopes and dreams. I have aged, I have changed hairstyle, changed makeup, and thus, all I wanted to show was me, myself, and I, all thanks to that perfect angle and beautifully researched lighting that made my selfie worthy of sharing with the entire community. Yes, I admit that with my selfies I long for my personal 15 minutes of fame … but in the end, who doesn’t?”

*   *   *

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], along with a brief explanation of why you shot it and what it means to you.

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 Magazine and the Chicago...