Preparation for the interviews

In preparation for the interview I wanted to first find out more about the theory of the selfie to base it into the context of the project.

I especially found Alise Tifentale’s essay The Selfie: Making sense of the “Masturbation of Self-Image” and the “Virtual Mini-Me”, which was written in connection to the Selfie City project, very insightful and rich in information.

The first thing that became very clear to me was that the main difference between the physical images I want to use for the project and the digital selfie is that the latter is a “networked image”. The selfie only exists, because it can be shared. No one would want to have a collection of self portraits on their phone for their own use, they are being taken because of the various options social networks provide like commenting or liking. Whereas the physical image was a lot more private, it would end up in photo albums that might be shared with friends and family but not further than that.

Tifentale writes in her introduction:

“Selfies make us aware about a particular method of self-fashioning and communication that is historically time-specific in the sense that it could materialize only in the moment when several technologies have reached a certain level of development and accessibility. These include the availability of Internet connection, hardware such as easy to use smartphones with cameras, and software that drives the online image-sharing platforms, geo-tagging of uploaded images and other features. Moreover, selfies suggest new approaches to studies of vernacular photography in general, as smartphones in this case function as cameras connected to the Internet (networked cameras), thus presenting a new and hybrid image-making and simultaneously image-sharing device significantly different from all its predecessors.”

A term I came across in her writings was “vernacular photography” which I haven’t heard before. Wikipedia explains:

Vernacular photography [1] is the creation of photographs, usually by amateur or unknown photographers both professional and amateur, who take everyday life and common things as subjects. Though the more commonly known definition of the word “vernacular” is a quality of being “indigenous” or “native,” the use of the word in relation to art and architecture refers more to the meaning of the following subdefinition (of vernacular architecture) from The Oxford English Dictionary“concerned with ordinary domestic and functional buildings rather than the essentially monumental.” Examples of vernacular photographs include travel and vacation photos, family snapshots, photos of friends, class portraits, identification photographs, and photo-booth images. Vernacular photographs are types of accidental art, in that they often are unintentionally artistic.

The selfie is just another category of vernacular photography.

Selfies can’t be regarded as accidental art though and they are especially not unintentionally. There is a very clear intention behind taking the image.

Mark R. Leary, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University and author of The Curse of the Self: Self-Awareness, Egotism, and the Quality of Human Life (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2004) points out that:

“by posting selfies, people can keep themselves in other people’s minds. In addition, like all photographs that are posted online, selfies are used to convey a particular impression of oneself. Through the clothes one wears, one’s expression, staging of the physical setting, and the style of the photo, people can convey a particular public image of themselves, presumably one that they think will garner social rewards.”

Karen Nelson-Field, Senior Research Associate, Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science, University of South Australia, and author of Viral Marketing: The Science of Sharing (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2013) is more critical and sees a calculated premeditation behind all the cute, playful, and instantaneous self-portraits posted online:

“We now all behave as brands and the selfie is simply brand advertising. Selfies provide an opportunity to position ourselves (often against our competitors) to gain recognition, support and ultimately interaction from the targeted social circle. This is no different to consumer brand promotion.”

The data of the Selfie City project shows that there is a higher percentage of women taking selfies and that there are certain poses that are being performed more frequent than others (tilted head, the “duck face” etc.)

For my project I don’t want to stage the people to repeat these poses, as I assume most of them haven’t taken a selfie before I’d like that natural effect to be seen in the images, the face they pull, the shaky hands they might have etc. They are not “trained” in taking selfies hence why the photo will result possibly a bit different to the typical selfie. The only thing I will explain to them is to stretch their arms to actually avoid a full close up of their face. Maybe this way the selfie becomes closer to an actual “vernacular” photo, something more accidental and unintentional.

Another aspect would be the style of the image.

Lev Manovich and Nadav Hochman have pointed out that on Instagram “all photos have the same square format and resolution (612 x 612 pixels). Users apply Instagram filters to large proportion of photos that give them an overall defined and standardized appearance.”

I have yet to decide whether I want to standardise the selfies through applying a filter (afterwards through photoshop), it would take away some of the uniqueness and would contradict the “vernacular” aspect of the image, on the other hand though it would undermine the whole selfie style and would give it the “typical” look.

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