Screengrab of a Google Image Search for "selfie community" (image by the author for Hyperallergic)

Screenshot of a Google Image Search for “selfie community” (image by the author for Hyperallergic)

CHICAGO — Is there such a thing as too much of the self? In the age of social networked identities, webcam tears, and plain old selfie criminology, it is possible to indulge in too much self-exploration online. That doesn’t necessarily mean self-exploration through the posting of selfie photos — those images are vestiges of the self. It’s quite different to have someone make a portrait of you, as in Ulric Collette’s Photoshopped images of two relatives merged into one single face, than it is to take control of your image by making your own selfie or self-portrait.

For the this installation of stories that explore the selfie phenomenon, we will look at creatively altered selfies and the selfie-focused app Sktchy, which creates a community for selfie enthusiasts. Go on with your selfie, and do not apologize for yourself — but don’t forget about the importance of a selfie community and your place in it no matter your age, sex, race, class, gender, or location.

Rick Smith

Rick Smith, 1970 vintage selfie

Rick Smith, 1970 vintage selfie

Occupation: Cybersecurity consultant
Selfie type: The Vintage Selfie

“I took this in 1970 while in high school, just to show myself that I could. When you took a selfie through a mirror you couldn’t fix the reversed image. Cameras didn’t have an editing button. I had my own darkroom, so I reversed the negative before printing it.

The camera was essentially a junior version of the venerable Nikon used by most professionals at the time. It was still pretty expensive. I paid for it with modest winnings from stock I’d bought a few years earlier. My dad played the stock market, and I did it a little, too, even as a kid.

In case you can’t tell, I’m a geek. I’m wearing a permanent press shirt and I have lens cleaning tissue in the shirt pocket. At least I had enough fashion sense not to wear a pocket protector.”

Ashley Lindsey

Ashley Lindsay selfie

Ashley Lindsay selfie

Occupation: Student, unemployed artist
Selfie type: Old-fashioned painting-as-selfie portrait

“I have been asking people to send me these kinds of portraits for over a year for the purpose of re creating them in paint, elevating them beyond a moment of vanity. In many ways I think they epitomize the transience and disposability of digital photographs at this point, and by painting them hope to draw attention to the performance aspect of these images, along with the varying levels of self-consciousness/self-centeredness involved in the instinct to snap these in the first place. This particular image I originally took of myself as a documentation of hair evolution over 2012. I think for me, as well as many others, it is almost about seducing yourself, and improving your concept and value of self in general.”

Russell Butler

Russell Brand selfie

Russell Butler’s Stencil Selfie – Turning 70

Occupation: Retired railroad trainman / mail art person
Selfie type: Stencil Selfie – Turning 70

“I’m a retired railroad trainman / mail art / artistamp person who has been documenting my birthdays since 1984 when I was 41. This year’s portrait was taken by the missus with her smartphone camera, and emailed to me. So the pose belongs to me, and I cut the stencil from cardstock print, I suppose the selfie designation might be a stretch. The image has been posted to various Facebook groups, both as a single image and an artist stamp sheet. This modesty fail came about on account of a profile of my work in the August issue of Juxtapoz Magazine under my aliases Colossus of Roads / buZ blurr.”

Jörg M. Colberg


Jörg M. Colberg selfie

Occupation: Writer, photographer, and teacher
Selfie type: Full space, fractured

“In the past, I mostly produced ‘selfies’ so I’d have an image to send to people when they needed a picture (for a bio or something equivalent). Usually, there would be such a request, me realizing that I don’t have what’s required, and then it’s off to make a ‘selfie’ that works. This one is different, though. I found an app for iPads/iPhones that can produce full-space panoramas, in other words photograph everything around the camera, left and right, up and down. I’ve always been interested in photographic depictions of space like that, because cameras usually peek into one direction, and what’s off camera simply doesn’t exist in the photograph. What if there is no “off camera”? Playing with the app, I then wondered whether I could include myself in the picture in such a way that the fact that the photograph had a maker was explicitly contained in the image (‘The author is present’). This isn’t very simple at all unless there is a mirror present that helps me see the screen when the camera is facing me. This particular ‘selfie’ was made in a rather cheap airport hotel at the airport in Amsterdam. Photographically, it’s a bit of a disaster – I don’t actually look like that (I do like the Baconian distortions, though). But in another sense, the non-perfect picture points at something else that’s part of photography, namely that, inevitably, a photograph will be a non-perfect depiction of some space. Even the Google Street View cars have a blind spot (at the bottom, where the pole connects the nine cameras with the car). Plus, there is the element of chance here. I was in control of the making of the space around me (one can erase and re-take shots in the app), but pointing the camera at myself let me little choice other than to hope for the best.”

Domenico Scagliola

Skitchy self-portrait

Sktchy self-portrait

Occupation: Artist
Selfie type: Sktchy screenshot

I started messing with the Sktchy iPhone app, which gives anyone the opportunity to make their own selfie or self-portrait, and then share it either within the network of other users, or post it to social networks. Like an Instagram for selfies only, this app makes the experience of producing and sharing a selfie feel a little less performative, exhibitionist and attention-seeking. Because everyone else using this app is also making a selfie to share with others, receive feedback, and even build a selfie community, or a community of selfie-makers. Essentially that’s how Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social networks started out. Perhaps a dedicated selfie app like Sktchy will normalize the selfie trend, making it both less audacious and just a normal part of exploring creativity community in the social networked age. Here’s one selfie with charming, diva-licious eyelashes and a frowny face by artist Domenico Scagliola, who I just started following. His bio notes that for his 50th birthday, he would like to “collect as many pictures as possible to make an exhibition . . . “ I’ll be back to follow his progress, and check out the other portraits and self-portraits he posts. Unlike Instagram or Tumblr, where you can heart (love) images, on Sktchy you “wow” them, leave a comment, or just silently watch the stream of never-ending selfies, and then contribute your own.

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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. Submit selfies to us via email: selfies [at] hyperallergic [dot] com.

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...

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