Warhol-esque Selfie via Flickr

A Warhol-esque selfie (by Rachel Carter, via Flickr)

CHICAGO — Last week we looked at a few self-portraits by famous artists, classifying these as predecessors to the selfie. Now that anyone can take a photo of themselves and upload it to social media for an insta-audience, the notion of what’s an arty smartphone self-portrait and what’s “art” is up for debate. Everyone can make what they want to call art, but not everyone is an artist, right? Who can and should make these selfies? This new set toys with these questions. Who’s an artist, and who’s just playing around with the smartphone camera?

Dana De Luca

Dana de Luca, "Self in Diptych" (2013)

Dana de Luca, “Self in Diptych” (2013)

Occupation: Italian photographer, Milan resident
Selfie type: Self in Diptych

This series is born out of a combination of self-portraits and single images that form part of my visual archive. [These are] images that, decontextualized from their origin, find their context in a new horizon and thus generate a new dialectic sense. I want the self of the auto-portrait to become a conscious image evoking dialogue that works in contrast to the monologue voice evoked by the self-portrait. In combining two images, I have followed a sort of flux of conscience. It’s been a symbolic and abstract thread that has woven me, more than a logical, narrative one.”

Minna Gilligan

Minna Gilligan, "Traditional selfie with new kimono before the opening at TCB last night."

Minna Gilligan, “Traditional selfie with new kimono before the opening at TCB last night”

Occupation: Artist, web coordinator at Art Guide Australia, illustrator at Rookie magazine
Selfie type: In anticipation of the solo show opening

Minna Gilligan is best known internationally for her illustrations in Tavi Gevinson’s Rookie magazine. But she’s also defining the selfie genre of photography for teen girls the world over. Here’s a selfie that she shot before the night of her solo show opening at Daine Singer Gallery in Melbourne. (Full disclosure: I wrote a catalogue essay for her exhibition.) In this photo, we can see that Minna is both excited and nervous. Here’s what she wrote on her personal blogspot (reproduced with permission):

“T-minus two days till the opening. My neck is very tense. I got my outfit the other day, and I am so monumentally excited about it you have no idea. Or maybe if you know me, you have some idea. I spent too much money on it but I don’t care because I love clothes and I think it’s okay after working really hard on something to treat yourself to something really special. In my case it’s usually garments or shoes, and in this particular case also that burger I had the other day. Special outfits for me also mark special events and this one is special. I’m only going to reveal part of my outfit now which is this Verner kimono that I bought. It is the same print as the dress I wore to my last opening at West Space, and I just love the print so much that I couldn’t resist this more winter appropriate version of it.”

Julie Takacs

Julie Takacs

Julie Takacs, “Masquerade” (2013), mixed media on 1800s journal paper (leather book cover, vintage metal printing plate, mourning lace, vintage silver foil leaf, digital prints, magazine clips)

Occupation: Adjunct professor at SUNY COBY in graphic arts and design, part-time antique store owner with her husband
Selfie type: Oceanographic Gift to a Husband Selfie

“For me it started two years ago while I was preparing a wedding gift for my husband-to-be. I was dreaming of our honeymoon on the sea in Maine and everything was tainted with oceanography. I was making a collage series of very personal work for him and I ended up wanting to do a self-portrait — the most personal of all. I didn’t want him to know what I was up to, so a selfie was just the answer! I used my iPhone and took pix until I had some looks, some poses, some attitudes and I printed them out. Using a chosen print as the basis of my collage work, I wove seashells in my hair and even sewed real pearls onto the final piece. I was the Mother of Pearl. A 52-year-old getting married, not exactly white but pearlescent. Since that we have had two anniversaries and I have been able to do two more rounds of selfie portrait collages for him, and I love the freedom. I was hooked. I have decided to do a new series based on these selfie portraits.

“There’s a certain liberation of the art when you put yourself into it. I am free to take my ideas visions and thoughts and paste them as I need without restraint. (Is this what Matthew Barney explores? That restraint?) I always thought my art was autobiographical and I am always the subject even when I try not to be, and when a selfie is used the personal experience is heightened! I don’t care how zany the outcome … how freeing. I doubt anyone will buy these new pieces (with my mug in them!) but that in itself may be the liberation! Certainly it’s become a catalyst for creation.”

Jorge Cruz


Jorge Cruz, Selfie (2013)

Occupation: Transgender avant-garde artist, 1/2 of WEARE18, pop star, & real-life barbie
Selfie type: Reflection of Hotness

“I came to terms that I was suffering from real bad depression at the end of 2011 and I didn’t want to go towards the pill route (two people whom were in my graduating class, as well as people I grew up around committed suicide because of the pills). I opted to give myself a compromise: eliminate as many variables as possible and if there is no progress within a year I would take the meds. I basically changed my life around by working out everyday, and I had already become a vegetarian in the summer. And those two things I think pulled me out of it. But within exercising everyday I really fell more in love with my body and my ownership of it; part of it, I think, is seeing the things your body is capable, what I’m capable of — it is so beautiful to fall in love with yourself, you know? So basically I just love my body and I like to look at myself (we have a ton of car dealerships where I live, so much so that anytime when I’m working out I’m bound to pass through one) through the reflection of cars. I like seeing how my legs look when I move, my ass, my thighs, etc. I like me, a lot.”

Meg Leary

Meg Leary Selfie (2013)

Meg Leary, “Selfie” (2013)

Occupation: Artist
Selfie Type: Do Not Fear the Selfie

“One of my biggest fears is opening up the newspaper (or the internet these days) and seeing a picture of my body, headless under a headline about obesity in America. This fear has been so pervasive that I am constantly scanning the streets looking for photographers taking pictures. Now everyone has a cell phone and taking pictures everywhere is part of our everyday lives. I decided that my selfie would be a shot of me photographing myself as I have always feared. What ended up happening is that I caught a moment of someone looking at my body as I was trying to capture myself.”

*  *  * 

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.

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...

3 replies on “This Is Not an Art Selfie”

  1. “Now that anyone can take a photo of themselves … what’s “art” is up for debate.” Now (not before the camera, not before social media, not before this article) the debate begins.

  2. Interesting – I read the article because of the “…what’s “art” is up for debate.” comment. This question has been hovering around the “craft” art world forever. Some question it and some ignore it. I am still questioning but coming down on the “we are all artists, some are good and some…not so much”, selfies just emphasize that.

  3. It’s funny to see these selfportraits, since I’ve been also working with this language myself.
    My point of view and techniques differ a little bit, since I use my phone and double exposure to merge myself into the world, capturing phrases and logos as part of my language, like this one taken in Greenwood, AL: http://instagram.com/p/dA_9UUywp0/, or the attached one, where I interact withy Gerard Richter’s Betty.

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