CHICAGO — It’s been a minute since I checked the selfies [at] hyperallergic.com email account. I was avoiding your selfies after a brief hiatus spent understanding selfie discomfort and the public gaze. I’ve since come back around to my selfie-love and this ongoing fascination with self-portraiture. In this moment of the contemporary selfie aesthetic, anyone with access to a smartphone can take a photo of their face and share it with their world.
There are a few things that selfies are not, and it’s important to acknowledge those as well. Selfies are not reflections in a social networked house of mirrors as in The Lady from Shanghai, where the femme fatale falls by the fate of her own gun. I also reject the simplistic assumption that selfies are internet narcissism. In this series, I consider the ways that selfies shape our social networked identities. We have to trust our selfies. This week’s selection of images implores us to do just that.
Occupation: Art Student at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston
Location: Boston, Mass.
“I shot this selfie because I found the composition on the surface of this small pond to be wonderful. The photo is composed just by natural elements and I stand in the center of the reflection of the sky. It has been mostly interpreted as a spiritual/nirvana state mostly by people on tumblr but that wasn’t my intention. It has been featured at Tumblr Radar two times. For me it is a beautiful selfie that uses the water as a mirror and is powered by all this small elements like leafs and flowers floating. It comes as a surprise to me because I think that from all the photographs I ever taken this one stands out. It was taken with my phone. It gives me a peaceful sensation.”
Occupation: Realtor & Artist
Location: Pacifica, Calif.
“I’m an artist who works in the estate sale business. I’m a queer middle-aged woman working. There are always so many mirrors and I can’t help myself. All in good fun framed by the difficult process of helping families find value and clear properties. The theater of life.”
Location: Chicago, Ill.
“Over the past year I’ve become increasingly fascinated with selfies and the construction of identity in general, especially the way identity is communicated through the body both as a whole and fragmented into parts, so I was excited to stumble across your selfie series today. The selfie I’m submitting is a piece that was in my BA exhibition at the University of Chicago in June 2013. It’s titled Hybrid Self and it’s made with black and white photographs of my face (printed in a darkroom) collaged onto plastic drop cloth.”
Occupation: Co-Director, Buddhist Peace Fellowship
Location: Oakland, Calif.
“I read a New York Times article recently that said that when we look at other people smiling, we instinctively mimic their expression in order to gauge whether or not it’s genuine. I’ve also read claims that smiling — even when deliberate, mechanical, inorganic — can facilitate pleasant feelings in the brain: a positive cause-and-effect. Put these two theories together, and you have the basis for a little Facebook selfie bio-experiment.
When creating the selfie, I wanted to look friendly. I tried to evoke in myself actual feelings of generalized goodwill to guide and induce my smile. (There’s a handy Buddhist meditation technique for this called metta bhavana: ‘loving-kindness.’ Smiling optional.) Such an approach may seem contrived, but it wasn’t hard to do. I was already in a good mood, feeling a nonspecific gladness and gratitude. I tried to translate that into a smile that said warm, rather than wry, sexy, beatific, etc. Nothing over-the-top. Just: hey, you’re kinda great. I’m glad you’re here.
Subtlety risks impotence, in a way, because the Internet loves hyperbole. Loves ember-eyed lust. Outrageous shaming, whether through comedy, bullying, self-deprecation, or all three at the same time. The internet pushes people to grab attention, to look cool. Honestly, I’m not that cool, viz., at home on a Friday night, writing to a web site. I’m not that cool, but I am warm, and I enjoy sharing and receiving warmth with others.
Hence my fascination with the possibility of online smile contagion. When posting to Facebook, I added the description:
‘it’s friday afternoon, and this is how i feel about you.’
Now, some might criticize the caption as even even more disingenuous than the image — a worse crime of fakery. You’re single, Katie. So who are these feelings for? Who is this unspecified ‘you’? A lie. A figment. A narcissistic ploy for attention. Or even if there is some secret ‘you’ out there, somebody you’re teasing with this post, or a crush who you hope might pick up on your oblique-ass signals, at the end of the day you are publicly beaming at him/her/hir/them so that other people — Third Parties — might tell you you’re pretty. What you are, though, is transparent. And thirsty for affirmation.
Woah-kay, uh, harsh? But true: wariness is not unwarranted. I’ll own up to the usual antics of lonely, bored, or mindless selfies, too, from time to time. But this one happens to be intentional. And now that you know the idea behind it, you know that the “you” really is you, the viewer. Whoever the hell you are. I’m hoping that your eyes and lips might try to match mine, and pick up another corner of the same gladness.
As of this writing, the Smiling Science Selfie has 60 Facebook Likes and 5 comments: one complimenting, two friendly teasing, and two straight-up friendly.”
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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.
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.