Exploring the History of the Selfie~

So, I know this post wasn’t formatted exactly as suggested but I was in “the zone” and didn’t even think of writing this post as suggested. Sorry >.< Just know I contain plenty multitudes~

When it comes to discussing emergent forms of digital content creation, I think there are few more disputed or more controversial forms than that of the selfie. It has been vilified across the board, reaffirmed, vilified again, then reaffirmed….and so on. It appears we as a people can’t seem to make up our minds abut whether or not selfies are insignificant and vain or profound expressions of self and the experience of life in a finite form. (Perhaps selfies can be a little of both???)

Anyway, regardless of your personal feelings on the medium itself, I think many of us realize that selfies do constitute their own genre of sorts. There are standard conventions that guide selfie creation and proliferation as well as entire digital platforms designed to “house” these new artifacts. Most, if not all, of us can recognize a selfie when we see one. The specific purpose of the selfie may be subjective but we can all objectively identify a selfie as a selfie.

Some people, like myself >.>, have even begun to identify selfies as art.

In a Vulture article by Jerry Saltz, there is a case made for viewing selfies as their own distinct art genre, separate from the self-portraits of artistic tradition they have often been compared to. Saltz cites the cultivation of very specific conventions as well as the “cultural dialogue” selfies seem to engage in as prime evience for why selfies should be considered as their own artistic genre. In the article, Saltz states,

These [Selfies] are not like the self-portraits we are used to. Setting aside the formal dissimilarities between these two forms—of framing, of technique—traditional photographic self-portraiture is far less spontaneous and casual than a selfie is. This new genre isn’t dominated by artists. When made by amateurs, traditional photographic self-portraiture didn’t become a distinct thing, didn’t have a codified look or transform into social dialogue and conversation. These pictures were not usually disseminated to strangers and were never made in such numbers by so many people. It’s possible that the selfie is the most prevalent popular genre ever.

According to Saltz, not only do selfies constitute as their own genre that is distinctly different from traditional self-portraiture but selfies also represent new forms of communication and socialization. Selfies are not just images, removed from a particular context. No, they are these very present, immediate messages that have a kind of agency. Selfies can be responses or reactions or affirmations or assertions or any number of poignant forms of communication. Saltz states, “Selfies are our letters to the world. They are little visual diaries that magnify, reduce, dramatize—that say, ‘I’m here; look at me.” Selfies are becoming not just an extension of our own language but almost a language unto themselves. Which is fascinating.

One one hand, selfies seem to be about self-representation and extending self beyond previously imposed finite limits but, with their increasing ubiquity, they are also becoming this cultural phenomenon that is able to express something about who we all are. Which, isn’t that what are does? It speaks to something transcendent yet so visceral. Something we can almost touch, but can’t quite hold. Which, isn’t that what self is?

The line between art and self is blurry, at best. Even if you don’t see selfies as particularly artistic or expressive, I think it’s fair to say that they are, currently, culturally significant. Which, to me, necessitates a need to look more closely at them and at what it is about selfies that resonates with so many people. What are selfies saying that we want to say? Or, that we want people to hear? What is in a selfie that is so important to share? Or, for those of us who keep our selfies private, what doe a selfie capture that is so important to save? I think these are all important questions and ones that are worthy of our investigation and consideration.

To dismiss selfies as simply trivial or frivolous or vain is to ignore what seems like the experience of more than half of the world. Like Saltz says, selfies are a way to communicate the experience of being here, of being me experiencing me in this very moment and how absolutely wild and unfathomable it is to exist. How can you ignore that???

It seems like a message that humanity has been trying to communicate for so long. It’s like some Thoreau-esque, transcendentalist bull. Just writing these words sounds like I’m trying to get at something sublime. Something that is integral to the human experience but is ineffable. I’m not trying to say that selfies are a manifestation of the sublime or that they hold some secret to ultimate self-realization but they could. 

I think it’s important that we continue to investigate the selfie and other emergent forms of digital content creation if for no other reason than because they are us, they increasingly represent us. And, we’re important subjects.

Don’t you think so too?

****

~Till next time~

Thoughts on Selfies

More Thoughts on Selfies

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