What does the phenomenon of the selfie tell us about how photography is popularly used nowadays?
A selfie is a self-portrait photograph, typically taken with a digital camera or camera phone held in the hand or supported by a selfie stick. (Wikipedia)
The selfie was named as word of the year by Oxford English Dictionaries in 2013. Although the Wikipedia definition refers only to a hand held digital photograph, the definition of the selfie is now expanding to encompass more versions of the self portrait. It is at least a sub-category of self portrait and has been compared by scholars (Selfiecity.net, Alise Tifentale, The City University of New York) with the early photographs, for example Hippolyte Bayard’s “Portrait of a Drowned Man (1840)”.
The selfie has been a part of the recent photographic revolution where digital cameras can be tied into the internet mainly by social media. This has encouraged the transmission of digital photographs on a huge scale. As an example the selfie in 2013 was responsible for 4% of all the photographs posted on Instagram (Selfiecity.net). This is a large but not necessarily dominant percentage.
The selfie has been popularly used to keep the image of a person in the minds of many. This is a useful tool for self publicists such as celebrities of all kinds and so the majority of selfies show a brand which seeks social rewards. The selfie would normally demonstrate positive, happy, accomplished, proud, well dressed, seductive or sexy.
It is rare that selfies show pictures of couch potatoes or people in ugly leggings. probably one in a hundred.
But the selfie can be used to generate other responses, perhaps shock or fear or celebrity.
The Abu Ghraib photographs have been tabled in many instances and Susan Sontag’s item in the New York Times “Regarding the Torture of Others” debates very clearly whether the atrocity was the taking of the photographs or the act of war by the American Government but the most revealing photograph, taken of Lynndie England and a group of the prisoners was to all intents and purposes a selfie and can be found under the title #selfie in most social media:
Referring back to earlier studies on Memes (Journal of Visual Culture, Limor Shifman), the tourist guy, Peter Guzli, used a selfie and inserted it into a world event, in this case the destruction of the twin towers New York, setting off a whole lot of copycat memes:
So there are many ways of using selfies to publicise events or to gain fame by promoting yourself to “breaking news” (Paradigm Shift).
The use of the selfie continuously being used to prove current news items and is often the first picture to be used in breaking news reducing the power of the traditional photojournalist. There are millions of photojournalists in the world today and although only a small amount of these pictures make their way towards the newspapers and TV channels, a vast amount of the information is transmitted as news via twitter, facebook, instagram etc. and this is becoming the news of the future. (ref. Donald Trump’s many efforts to bypass the American news media). These photographs, whether political, comical or informative, are viewed very quickly by millions of “followers” and transmitted from “friend” to “friend” to become the news of the day.
Tifentale, A. (2013) Making Sense of the “Masturbation of Self Image” and “Virtual Mini-Me”. City University of New York
Shifman, L. (2013) Journal of Visual Culture. The cultural Logic of Photo-Based Meme Genres. Sage Publications
Sontag, S. (2004) Regarding the torture of Others. New York Times Magazine
Cover, R (2016) Digital Identities – Creating and Communicating the Online Self. Nikki Levy