Is There Any Shame in the Selfie?

October 21st, 2013 § 0 comments

If you think it’s just your annoying friend and Rihanna that are constantly posting selfies online, think again. At the moment, there are around 90 million selfies on Instagram. Yes, 90 million! Facebook, Flickr and Twitter are awash with the selfie too.

Head tilted, lips pouted, hair flicked and camera held at arm’s length is the classic selfie pose that’s been popularized by stars like Kim Kardashian, Kelly Brook and Tyra Banks. Rihanna takes the art of the selfie to another level by posting pics of her buttocks or of herself with two huge joints in her mouth.

But then Rihanna wouldn’t be Rihanna if she didn’t take things to another level. For the vast majority of selfie-image makers, it’s not about pushing the boundaries on social mores. Instead, it’s simple a way to record a moment in time and share it with family and friends.

Katie, a student from Birmingham, posts a selfie a few times a week on Twitter. ‘I like it because my family live far away and I can show them what I’m up to. I also use it before I go out, to ask friends if they like what I’m wearing. If I get positive feedback, I feel a bit more confident going out.’

There’s no doubt that this is part of the lure of the selfie: the ability to take a photo of yourself, control how you look, share it instantly with the world and garner approval that makes you feel good.

The term ‘selfie’ was first coined in a ‘how-to’ photography guide by the photographer, Richard Krause. He wrote, ‘The guesswork that goes into selfies often results in serendipitous photographic surprises.’

In February 2007 the photo-sharing site Flickr created a group called ‘selfie shots,’ defining the selfie as: ‘A photograph of oneself in an arm-extended posture. Not to be confused with a photo of oneself in a mirror or other reflected surface.’

But the biggest turning point in the rise of the selfie came in 2010 when Apple launched its iPhone 4 which had a front facing camera that enabled users to easily frame and take photos of themselves.

The release of the iPhone 4 coincided with the launched of Instagram, another photo-sharing app that features easy-to-use tools, which can blur and enhance amateur photos. By April 2012, Instagram had more than 100 million active users.

Michael Pritchard is the director general of the Royal Photographic Society and he attributes two factors to the rise of the selfie. Firstly, he says that that the ‘cameras on smartphones are incredibly good.’ The second reason is the increasing number of single people in today’s society.

‘The number of single-occupancy households is rising, more people are divorcing and living single lives and people go on holiday by themselves more and don’t have anyone else to take the picture. That’s one reason I take selfies: because I do actually want to record where I am,’ he explains.

The idea of people wanting to record where they are and what they’re doing is nothing new. Caveman carved on cave walls for this exact reason. Fast forward a few hundred thousand years to the Renaissance and Europe was witness to a huge rise in the popularity of portrait painting.

Wealthy families such as the de Medici’s became infamous because they regularly commissioned up and coming artists of the time to paint their portraits. Many artists also became famous for painting self-portraits. During his lifetime in the seventeenth century, Rembrandt painted more than one hundred self-portraits charting his life over forty years.

Other artists who are well-known for their self-portraits include painters as varied as Albert Durer, Vincent Van Gogh, Gustav Courbet, Frida Kahlo and Andy Warhol.

Isn’t part of the excitement of modern technology is that it allows us all to tap into our inner artists, granting us – to paraphrase Warhol’s famous words – our fifteen minutes of fame?

For celebrities the appeal of selfies is different. It allows them to have a sense of control over their public image, something which crudely snapped shots taken by paparazzi robs them of. That said the key to a great selfie is a veneer of casualness, which masks an intentionally posed shot.

The person in the photo should looked relaxed, equally aware of their own narcissism and vulnerability. We should feel like we’re peering into a private, caught-off-guard moment, even though we know we’re not.

Again Rihanna is the master of this art. Leading PR Mark Borkowski says, ‘every aspect of Rihanna’s life is about her letting people in. Some people are very natural and normal about it and completely comfortable with being ‘on’ and that’s fine. But it becomes unstuck if it’s not real. A selfie has to be ‘the real you’. It works if you can give people a manageable piece of reality which is who you are.’

The verdict? There is no shame in the selfie, as long as you make sure you’re ‘keeping it real.’ Happy self-snapping!


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