For many, encountering a selfie is often followed by a hefty eye-roll and sigh. However, Jerry Saltz’, “Art at Arm’s Length: A History of the Selfie” manages to depict selfies as artistic, even going as far to describe the genre as an artistic movement. I personally, am still a member of the former category (the eye-roller).
Whilst selfies have revolutionized how we share information, take photographs and the broadened the uses of technology, however, many people are using them merely for personal gratification.
Saltz references Kyle Chakya, curator of the National #Selfie Portrait Gallery who describes the selfie as ‘creating your own digital avatar’, going on to say that “Smartphone selfies come out of the same impulse as Rembrandt’s… to make yourself look awesome”. Here, Chakya refers to the work of Rembrandt, who is renowned for the self-portraiture that recurs throughout his work. This prompted me to think about the reasons behind Rembrandt painting himself – did he want to be perceived a certain way? Was he being selective with the physical traits he chose to enhance in his images?
This is certainly the case in today’s day and age. Taking a selfie enables the photographer to enhance their best features and withhold the elements of themselves that they don’t want the audience to see. This ability to amend images and construct a profile that hides your flaws and magnifies your strengths poses many ethical questions. Should we consider these people liars and frauds or just accept that social media fosters embellishment?
Typically, the selfie is subjected to numerous stages of editing, including the multiple staged photos that a person will take before settling on one to post on Instagram (or other social media). Then comes the choice of filter, which again alters the image, exposing the audience to an unrealistic depiction of a person.
The essence of the selfie is false, edited, skewed and partial. But now a way of life, the selfie is here to stay. So whatever your feelings towards the selfie or the people that constantly post them, embrace it, albeit with the knowledge that not all is what it seems.