Over the centuries, the self-portrait has lived in the world as a clear portrayal of self-expression. From Frida Kahlo, who painted endless portraits of herself, to Chuck Close, who used photography of his visage, to now Kim Kardashian, who has published a rather large photo book of only Selfies— people have created their own narratives and sense-of-self through this form of visual representation. Even cave men drew pictures on their walls of themselves in action, expressing their daily life.
Since the camera came into existence, many started taking photographs of themselves using cameras in mirrors, or with extended cables for shutter release. After that, Polaroid cameras brought about the arm’s length self portrait. And let’s not forget, the Selfie Stick. Technology (specifically digital photography) has advanced rapidly, and social media has hardened its grasp on society, causing the masses to gravitate towards more visual representation. Because of this, there have been a surge of digital self-portraits in our culture, known as “Selfies,” creating a new structure to cultural narrative.
Urban Dictionary defines “selfies” as, “A picture taken of yourself that is planned to be uploaded to Facebook, Myspace or any other sort of social networking website. You can usually see the person’s arm holding out the camera in which case you can clearly tell that this person does not have any friends to take pictures of them…”
As this concept has gained expedited popularity, Selfies have been criticized as being ego-driven and narcissistic. Celebrities have used Selfies for self-promotion, and at the same time, there is extensive research on the psychological effects of these photographs resulting in magnified physical insecurity, specifically in young girls. And yet, there is a certain fascination with the shout-out into the universe, every time someone posts a Selfie. In my opinion, it can be used for vain and ego-driven purposes, but mostly it seems utterly existential. It tells me our society is lonely for something, and lost when asked what it is and where to find it. It seems like we must document ourselves living our lives to know that we are in fact here, living them.
When asked if she thought Selfies are important, photographer, Vivian Fu, says, “I do think they are, especially for people who don’t see much representation in the mainstream. Things are changing because people are demanding that kind of representation, and it starts from these people representing themselves–outputting narratives that aren’t stereotypes. Many people don’t realize their opinions might be problematic, and maybe it’s because they aren’t seeing diversity around them. Selfies are a space for people to represent themselves, and from that, for us to better understand each other.”