The Selfie

Self portraiture has been incorporated into the digital age with the aid of the front facing camera now offered in most digital devices. The ability to see the self whilst photographing has given a new form of freedom to representation, where the subject can control all aspects of their own depiction. In addition to this, the accessibility to photography has grown enormously with the first camera phone, now nearly all handsets have both a back and front-facing camera, with the latter being the most important in the selfie phenomenon. However without social media, the selfie probably wouldn’t have become such a large part of society; people love the chance to share their experience with other people. This includes their own image; the validation that comes from sharing an selfie and having friends and strangers ‘like’ and seemingly approve it has encouraged a constant stream of selfies daily. At 3pm today a total of 218,139,231 images have been posted on Instagram with the hashtag ‘selfie’ and over 90 million posted with the hashtag ‘me’.In addition to general members of the public, celebrities also use social media to connect with each other and their fans. Instagram allows a new level of connectivity; when a celebrity allows their profile to be public, it means anyone who follows them can both see the images they post and respond to them by liking, commenting or sharing. This extended concept of connecting with celebrities probably encourages more input and engagement with social media, not only can a user potentially interact with an idol, but they can also post the same sort of material.

Photography is a form of artistic expression, therefore the selfie constitutes as an expression too, now accessible to the masses. The everyday person now has the tools to express themselves through photography and they have an output in form of social media platforms. The selfie can be thought of as a form of pictorial identity, the subject captures themselves and documents their likeness in a way they are comfortable with. The selfie could be considered to be the practice of representation that gives them the most control over their depiction, however this has good and bad elements. Control means the subject has the full power over how they are represented, meaning they will nearly always be captured in a way they are comfortable with, or if not they have the power to delete the image and start again. However the selfie also gives the subject the opportunity to capture themselves in a way that many people might not recognise; using different angles, lighting and editing processes can produce an image which is far from an accurate likeness.

The portrait has predominately been used as a form of photographic identification, with our likeness being used in documentation such as passports, driving licenses and other forms of id, which explains why there is a lot of confusion when it comes to the difference between representing a person and a depiction of their likeness.  In contemporary art and photography, the concept of the portrait has evolved dramatically. As I explored in the portraiture made by Rankin, a portrait is no longer confined to the idea of producing an accurate likeness of the person; it can now express an element of their personality which itself forms an idea of identity. If portraiture itself draws away from the idea of the photograph as a document of identity and draws on the idea of the photograph as an expression of identity, it will become much less confusing for the audience viewing the image. Then just like professional portraiture, the selfie can move past conventional notions of depiction and utilise abstract ideas of representation to great artistic effect.

With this idea in mind we as an audience must consider what the purpose of the selfie is aside from the superficial concept of depicting the subject. Some theories of describe identity as a series of role performances which adapt to each social situation, other theories state that there is a core self, which is stable and doesn’t change and a situational self which is fluid and adjusts to the circumstances. Another theory describes identity as a goal through which role performances try to achieve through validation; each person is trying to reach their ‘ideal self’. This theory of identity could be applicable to the selfie, where the user takes continual self portraits and sharing them online with the hope of being validated. Social media platforms give the community the ability to validate people’s selfies by offering them functions such as ‘liking’ or ‘commenting’. Through these actions, the user has their selfie validated or rejected and therefore adapt their identity to suit the response, pursuing their internal goal of identity. The simple selfie which appears to be superficial and vain, could actually reflect and represent the taker’s ideological self, making it a profound practice of realising internal goals.

Of course if this process was untouched by external forces, the selfie would be uncomplicated and could perhaps be relied upon completely. However the digital world if full of pressures and distractions which undoubtedly have affected photography, the expression of identity and identity itself. Consumerism, materialism, capitalism have affected the way we live on a day to day basis, how we identify ourselves and identify with each other. The ideological self is being shaped by these external pressures, increasingly there are trends in the selfies being taken, as multiple people seek the same goal identity. People find themselves conforming to the ideological self promoted by different industries and find validation on social media from other people who are seeking the same idea of self. It becomes a never ending cycle in which people continuously consume, create and validate the notion of an ideological self promoted by external sources. As a result of this, we can’t take the selfie on face value, just like any other photographic image, it has to be critiqued in terms of the motives behind it, what the creator is trying to communicate and how this could possibly be flawed. In my project I want to look at this idea of the ideological self and how pressures from the industry and concepts such as materialism, consumerism, capitalism have changed my ideological self and what evidence there is in my expressions of identity to support this. Do I have an identity that is untouched? Or has it been shaped by the external pressures of modern society?


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