Pictured above is my personal selfie. By definition: a picture taken of me, by me. This is a new concept to put in historical context. One hundred years ago, even the word selfie was non-existent. A picture of oneself was merely deemed a self-portrait. Since then, selfies have engulfed not only social media, moreover human thought. I chose to use a selfie for this assignment because it’s what I know best. Everyone is most familiar with themselves, hence the birth of the selfie. The selfie reflects self-worth, as well as self-image. This reflection will analyze my personal selfie, as well as the entire cult following associated with this phenomenon.
The first cameras were used in the 1840’s (Sontag, 176). This picture-taking machine had no initial social connotation, it was strictly to document moments. Sharing these moments was of little importance. The first photographers would certainly be astonished at the use of this new media in present. The camera has since evolved to rely heavily on the use of smartphones, making it easier than ever to participate in the selfie movement. This change of gears demands rapid technological change. Part of what makes a selfie so customary is the fact that it is instantaneous. We no longer need to put mass amounts of effort into developing these photos. This element of photography fits perfectly in a world centered around the now.
Selfies have a denotative and connotative duality. The selfie should be taken at literal face value. Fundamentally, it is a self-portrait. However, it is much more than its denotative definition. The connotative meaning suggests cultural awareness, attraction, and emotion. Attractiveness is dependent on personal preference. Happiness portrayal in this image is not opinion-based. It is unwaveringly clear that I am happy in this photo, from the expression on my face. The audience is conditioned to associate a smile with happiness through semiotics. This nation is selfie saturated. As aforementioned, these self-portraits are immediate. Humans possess this unspoken immediate allegiance to social media. We constantly require informing Twitter and Instagram of where we are. Being a part of a society-generated normality constitutes a sense of belonging. Being an active member of a participatory culture that is the selfie tends to act in such a way that mirrors that of real human contact.
You are what you selfie. That inherent need for “likes” on pictures is weighty. A self-portrait is now a commodity that is attached to our bodies. For most cases, the amount of likes on our selfies on the Internet is directly equitable with self-worth. If a selfie is anything less than adored, it takes a direct hit on one’s self-image. We treat it defensively as if it were an entity of our character. It is crucial to step back and realize that this is just a picture of oneself rather than oneself. We tend to attach images of people to the person themselves (Mitchell, 73). This warrants no exception for our own selfies. In fact, this premise intensifies. We tend to be more apologetic of our own selfies, to add to our self-worth. When an onlooker criticizes a selfie, it shoots a direct hit to that person. If the person behind the selfie is seeking self-worth, he or she benefit greatly from posting it to social media, depending on the reaction of their followers.
Images are a source of empowerment and legitimacy (Mitchell, 76). Our selfies are an image representative of our society, therefore follow the same premise of giving liberation. When posted to social media, if the reaction is positive, the author is given a heightened sense of self-worth. Contributing to the ever-present collection of selfies that circulate the Internet gives a sense of cultural legitimacy. Enhancing the public discourse of ongoing cultural conversation. It empowers the individual because they are participating in something their culture promotes and values. This directly correlates with the presumption that pictures have a desire (Mitchell, 71). This premise is applicable to the selfie because the artist has ulterior motives when taking their own picture. This image is associated with happiness because when I feel good about myself, I tend to take selfies. This is how selfies work: as a tool of self-gratification. This highlights self-worth and credits me as culturally aware. I am pleased with my surroundings, and I should take a selfie to document it. Participating in the selfie movement gives authorization.
Photography is in fact an act of intervention. The person taking the selfie tends to alter the way they look for aesthetic pictorial purposes. The innocence of a selfie is what makes it more accurate (Sontag, 175). To elaborate, it is crucial to recognize the intention of a selfie. There is more relation to a visual reality than actual mimicking of an object (Sontag, 176). You can tell a great deal about someone based on the way they portray themselves, this helps to better cognize the subject matter (Sontag, 175). The visual reality associated with a selfie is the characteristics of a person.
The chronic search of the photogenic pertains to this selfie. Photographs are constantly in search of the “perfect”, or most photogenic snapshot. This creates a distorted reality because the cropping is methodical. The image is taken with intentions to fit exactly what the artist wants into that frame, whatever the measurements may be. It is a perfectly modified snapshot of reality.
Individuals who were robbed of their past tend to overcompensate on the picture taking. Emotionally or physically, something has been omitted in their lives. For this reason, they tend to idolize photography, to prevent further memory loss (Sontag, 178). This concept is applicable to the idea of selfies. Lack of self-esteem or a troubling past resulting in identity crisis can trigger an overdose of selfies. Confidence deficiency can warrant the constant need to take a selfie. It can be used as a coping mechanism to numb the pain and confusion of an identity crisis. Thus, selfies are an agent of comfort.
A selfie gives a voice to an oppressed person. It allows the subject to also be the author, giving them complete and total artistic reigning. It is a close up image of someone in his or her own light. If someone has words that they are afraid to speak, a selfie can give those lost words a voice. Showing your face against oppression in term voices an opinion (Payne, 13). Your face is the most powerful part of your body to take a stand against or for a matter. This is due to the fact that it conveys the most emotion. We identify in the faces of others. It reminds us of our innate responsibility to one another. It adds validity and reliability to a person, simply by the audience member knows that they were important enough to be photographed. Even if the subject takes his or her own picture, this point is still valid.
Explaining and interpreting a selfie to a blind person is a difficult task. A picture of a person is subjective. Independent variables such as height and weight are measured. Beauty is an immeasurable quality. To describe someone as “kind of pretty”, “beautiful”, or “ugly” would be useless to someone who is visually impaired (Kleege, 229). It does not resonate as well with someone who is visually impaired, as crucial pieces are lost in translation. If the subject in the selfie were to vocalize his or her opinion, it would give a more articulate idea that is accessible to everyone (Kleege, 230). Auditory explanations add another key element to a point, because only so much can be seen from a picture. An image only paints a thousand words if it is put in context to a blind person. Selfies are limited in the sense that they cannot be perceived by the visually impaired as there is only a graphic component.
Selfies, although powerful, are also such a norm in this society that some may become inoculated to them. When we are constantly hit with media overload, we tend to shut off and not even notice its presence any longer. This is the same for selfies. When we view someone else’s selfie on social media, it has become so commonplace to us that we do not even bother to analyze it. We decide within seconds whether it is worth a like or a dislike, and carry on scrolling. This type of immunity is noteworthy because something once so strange and powerful has become second-natured to most people in Western society.
All photographs solidify evidence that something has happened. Selfies provide concrete evidence that I was here. I lived, I smiled, and I experienced things. I was here. I left my mark on the world by this selfie. Selfies are not doctored. They are real images, taken by real people. At the current time and place portrayed in the photo, I was there. They embody our experiences, our self-worth, and everything in between. This snapshot simultaneously does all these things. It inspires people, while adding to a cultural web. It gives authenticity. Selfies are representational of this generation, and will remain in history for the generations to come.
Carol Payne. “Lessons with Leah: Re-reading the Photographic Archive of Nation in the National Film Board of Canada’s Still Photography Division. Visual Studies 21.1 (2006).
Georgina Kleege. “Blind Imagination: Pictures into Words.” Southwest Review (2008): 227-239. PDF.
Susan Sontag. “On photography.” Communication in History: Technology, Culture, and Society. 4th ed. Eds. David Crowley and Paul Heyer. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2002.
WJT Mitchell. “What Do Pictures ‘Really’ Want?” October 77 (1996):