Recent journalism graduate and occasional contributor to The Roaming Eye, Kerrie Braithwaite reports below on a recent panel discussion in London focusing on what has become one of the most ubiquitous of photographic genres, the Selfie.
THE ‘CURATED’ EGO
“The National Portrait Gallery (16 January) brought together various professionals, including two members of the artist collective StudioSTRIKE Sarah Howe and Mihnea Chiujdea, to discuss one of the biggest social media trends of the time, the “Selfie”.
“The evening featured five panellists, Paul Snowdon professor of Philosophy of the mind at University College London (UCL), Rosy Martin photographer, writer and psychological therapist, Eugenie Shinkle senior lecturer for photographic theory and criticism at the University of Westminster, James Kilner senior lecturer in Human Motor Neurosciences at UCL. Chairing the panel was senior lecturer in the History of Art and Design, director of Historical and Critical studies for the Faculty of Art and trustee of the Design History Society, Annebella Pollen, who began by presenting two different types Selfie.
“First, she introduced the “look at me” Selfie showing images of celebrities, Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian (both topless), to another type, the controversial “we were here” Selfies by President Obama, David Cameron and President Helle Thorning Schmidt of Denmark at Nelson Mandela’s memorial. Pollen posed the idea of the social media Selfie as being “in pursuit of an ideal self”, a constant attempt to capture ourselves, in our moment, as we see perfect.
“The Selfie has changed dramatically over time from monochrome, straight-faced, upright portraits of important individuals to the inclusion of the camera device in the image through the reflection of a mirror. Selfie has also now become a term recognised by the Oxford dictionary as: “A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website”. The close association of the Selfie with technology and social media was discussed with Rosy Martin describing the Selfie as “a form of digital fashioning”.
“The Selfie was later described by Eugenie Shinkle as the “relationship between the self and technology, a completely different way of accommodating the camera to our body, a wearable technology”. James Kilner gave a neuroscientific perspective on the subject, and suggested a similar idea to Annebella Pollen, that technology “allows us to try to capture what we look like, and show others we are this good looking” a reasoning that could be justified in looking at not only the subject photographed, but the flattering angle in which the image is taken.
“Paul Snowdon said that those who take Selfie images have “their own narrative”, a similar idea to Eugenie Shinkle’s description of the Selfie as “a continuous event, a flow of networked information.” Instead of Selfies being memorabilia, Eugenie describes it as a portrayal of a “boundless and changed self, which keeps flowing”.
“The panel agreed with Paul Snowdon’s idea that the Selfie is a “multiplicity of selves”, an aspect that Rosy Martin, Eugenie Shinkle and Annebella Pollen also mentioned. Whether capturing a simple fleeting moment or aiming to capture yourself in the way you wish, the Selfie can be seen as an ongoing habit or narrative, constantly updating or changing, forever portraying another side of the individual’s alter ego, curated onto a platform for others to view and comment upon.
“It was informative, it was good to see people with different professional backgrounds give their opinion and argument on the topic. Our image of ourselves is more important and more interchangeable than ever, especially with the rise of technology and the internet” (Hannah Hathaway Kells, photographer)
“The talk was well planned with a great selection of professionals on the panel. The only thing I felt that wasn’t covered enough is the idea that the Selfie allows the subject to create the image as they want it to be and not have the photographer impose their view.” (Kerrie Braithwaite, journalist and reviewer).
What makes a good Selfie?
“A Selfie is more than just a self-portrait, it’s one of many ways that we respond to changing relationships between technology and the body.” – Eugenie Shinkle
“If you are thinking of being good, from the point of view of the Selfie producer, then whether it is good depends on whether it fulfils their aims (perhaps to amuse friends, say). But in general, a Selfie is simply a picture and so it is good if it is a good picture, and no one can capture in a simple formula what makes a good picture.” – Paul Snowdon
“My interest in the Selfie is the way it seems to encapsulate anxieties that people have about digital and networked photography, so much so that the old rules about when and where to take photographs, in what quantity, and which to make public are all called into question. There’s quite a lot of anxieties in the press about Selfies encouraging indiscriminate, unthinking picture-taking, as well as anxieties about what the huge amount of images might be doing to us, for example, the effects they may have on our self-image and memory function. A lot of this worry seems excessive to me, and quite typical of the way that new photographic technologies and practices are received – they have precipitated similar worries since the early days of the form.” – Annebella Pollen
“A playful and creative approach to self-portraits, that is not about chasing any notion of ‘the ideal image’, since that is an impossible goal, but rather allows for a whole range of emotions and possible representations which challenge simple stereotypes.”- Rosy Martin
“The rise in the popularity of Selfie is driven by the technology that allows us to share images of ourselves with others through social media. In this way we are able to present an image of ourselves to others which we control and are happy with. Therefore, to some degree what makes a good Selfie is an image of ourselves that we think portrays us in the way in which we would like others to see us.” – James Kilner
And if you have a Selfie to share, please email me:
I will collect and add a gallery of The Roaming Eye readers Selfies, with or without your name/nickname or alias. After all, if we have multiple selves then they can also be realised in the names we choose to adopt. So send your Selfie (72dpi max width 650pixels) to me. I will post ones of reporter Kerrie and photographer Hannah once I have them.
Kerrie and Hannah Double Selfie