Life Ruled by a Lens: Thoughts on the Selfie

Take a walk through any city centre or landmark and you’ll undoubtedly notice an endless sea of outstretched arms attempting to capture the perfect selfie (is there such a thing?).

A few years ago, I climbed the acropolis in Athens only to be greeted by a multitude of tourists wielding all manner of devices; I could barely marvel at the Parthenon without dodging the abominable selfie stick*.

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The front-facing camera: ruining other peoples’ photos since its creation.

Naturally, I’m exaggerating, the Athenian acropolis is quite an expanse, but I’m sure you get my point.

Looking back about a decade, I remember me and my mum visiting the pharmacy in order to get our family photographs developed. I vividly remember the childish anticipation of receiving the wallet of photos, still warm from the printer; I remember flicking through the wallet laughing at the endless amount of ridiculously blurred photos or those featuring an ill-placed finger.

Finding a gem of a photo on your disposable made it all worthwhile. Those were the days, right?

In just ten years, photography has went from an intimate process into something that is ultimately accessible by all.

The majority of devices that we use in our day-to-day lives have photographic capabilities – often more than one. Taking into account the influence of social media, photographs have increasingly saturated our screens and profiles.

Naturally, we are encouraged to personify our online identities on these sites and are virtually rewarded through likes and comments.

Thus, the resurgence of the selfie.


History of the Selfie

Oxford Dictionaries announced their word of the year for 2013 to be ‘selfie’, which they define as “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.”

A more in-depth definition is:

“A fast self-portrait, made with a smartphone’s camera and immediately distributed and inscribed into a network, is an instant visual communication of where we are, what we’re doing, who we think we are, and who we think is watching.

Selfies have changed aspects of social interaction, body language, self-awareness, privacy, and humour, altering temporality, irony, and public behavior. It’s become a new visual genre—a type of self-portraiture formally distinct from all others in history”

Now that is not to say that the selfie is a modern phenomenon.

A gentleman called Robert Cornelius holds the accolade of being the first person to have even taken a ‘selfie’ back in 1839.

Cornelius, an amateur chemist and photography enthusiast, had set his camera up at the back of his family store in Philadelphia. He took the image by removing the lens cap and then running into frame where he sat for a minute before covering up the lens again. On the back he wrote “The first light Picture ever taken. 1839.”

What a hipster.

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Mr. Cornelius depicted in the world’s 1st selfie. Needs a bit more exposure, don’t you think?

The Age of the Selfie

These days, we undoubtedly exist in the era of the selfie, whether we like it or not.

The majority of smartphones have a front-facing camera, practically inviting us to photograph on the spur of the moment, regardless of location or company.

Now, I’m not being hypocritical, here. Those who know me personally know that the majority of my Facebook profile pictures are, indeed, selfies. That is entirely down to the fact that, unlike some, I am impossibly un-photogenic in candid images. It’s a curse.

I suppose the selfie, for people like me, offers some degree of control in the image we present of ourselves throughout our online presence. (You know, instead of those drunken ones that you end up being tagged in.)

For others, the selfie is an opportunity to make a statement in a way that a regular photograph can not. Take Ellen Degeneres’ ‘Oscar Selfie’, for instance: in one of the most prestigious Hollywood events of the year, this one image managed to create one of the most star-studded selfies of all time; it earned 3.3 million retweets and almost 2.3 million likes on Twitter.

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Quite the statement, wouldn’t you say?


To Wrap This Up

The purpose of this post is not to ‘diss’ the selfie; after all, it is simply a method of capturing an image of ourselves. I simply wanted to air my views on it after having spent an hour trying to create one.

Out of frustration and unnecessary self-loathing, it got me thinking.

The selfie is a mirror image of self-perception.

You’re only likely to post a selfie of yourself if you’re happy with it. No one, besides any family and friends privy to an impromptu selfie session, will know how much time and effort has went into it. If social media is anything to go by, you’re only going to present an edited snapshot of your life onto the online world. Consequently, the self-portrait has become interchangeable with our own perception of our selves.

We didn’t have that privilege ten years ago. Think back to all of those school trips, when you were armed with disposable cameras. Did you honestly care about what those photos were going to turn out like? Most likely not.

The major downside to this rise in the selfie is a massive increase in self-awareness. For better, or for worse, we are all undoubtedly more aware of our selves in social situations. Having a camera constantly at the end of our tech-occupied fingertips is something of a burden. For me, anyway.

It truly makes me wonder what the future holds.

Where does it end?

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Thanks for staying with me,

I never want to type the world selfie again!

*Selfie-stick: An infernal creation wielded by both young and old in order to extend the reach of their primary selfie-taking limb.

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