I know I’m not alone in imagining that being alive in the 1960s meant I would walk down a naturally yellow-tinted street, wave to my friends John, Paul, George, and Ringo, hop into a van of friendly strangers, and drive across America till we found ourselves (and ourselves) in California, Joni Mitchell waiting for us at some canyon next to a lady who sells magical beads on a rug. Or that in the ’80s, I would’ve gone to school with Molly Ringwald during the day, and gone to clubs with Debbie Harry and Stephen Sprouse at night. Tumblr is full of teenagers moping about being born in the wrong decade and YouTube is full of people complaining that today’s generation will forever give credit to Kanye for discovering Paul McCartney and that they will never know music like it once was. Most of the time I feel convinced that the whole internet is devoted to trying to preserve, remember, and figure out what life was like without the internet. Continually blaming the internet for a toxic society. We live in a time unlike any other, we should embrace the change and explore the endless opportunities that this new world provides for us.
One of the newest arguments on the market is whether the popular social media photograph known as the “selfie”, is to be considered simply a selfish photograph of oneself to share for attention, or a self-portrait considered a work of art. We’re told that selfies are narcissistic, frivolous cries for help. But it doesn’t feel frivolous to bear witness to my body on a particular day of a transitory existence. I understand that with the help of the iPhone and other various smartphones, taking a selfie doesn’t take much skill or a lot of thought, however the act itself of conforming ones body to be perceived by an audience in a certain way is extremely interesting and artistic to me.
Selfies are a way to show other people the person we’d like them to see. But the funny part is: even though everybody loves to take them, it’s still hard for some of us to own up to the fact that we’re taking a picture of ourselves expressly for people to see. It can feel a little silly. It can feel a little vain. We are not just aware that we are taking a picture of ourselves, we are hyper-aware, and so while taking the picture, it’s like we’re floating above our bodies, objectively watching ourselves take a picture of ourselves and judging our poses from an outsider’s perspective. And we are aware that other people are aware that this is a very self-conscious and choreographed decision. With the aid of the smartphone, the selfie has provided everyone with the opportunity to experiment with those physical constraints of self-seeing and self-representation. Artists in the 19th and 20th century took selfie’s too, maybe not as many because of the cost of film, the resources, etc. but “selfies”, have always been a thing.
Portraiture is clearly far from a dying art and I don’t think a line can really be drawn between a selfie and a self-portrait, I believe a selfie is a form of self-portraiture. If iPhones and front-camera phones were available during Warhol’s time I’m sure he would have taken advantage of the technology as well. There may be millions of them floating around on the internet, some might show a trashy amount of cleavage, some tacky filters, but they are still a form of self expression that has come to define our generation in a way unlike anything else in history. We live in a different very different world. I think about when my mother and father often break out old photo albums and laugh at the Valencia-before-there-was-Valencia-tinted photos in wonderment ,as though they can’t believe these carefree teens were them. Looking through these albums isn’t only an exercise in nostalgia. While flipping through shots of themselves drinking beers on the beach and trying out different hairstyles and wearing absurd baby blue blazers, they’re also revelling in the feeling of “that’s me”. They laugh and talk about what babes they were, and I think seeing those photos feels good because they’re reminders of their beauty and their friend’s beauty and the friendship that they all shared. Regardless of how different they look now, that’s still them. They’re those girls wearing fur jackets following my dad’s band around, having a sneaky cigarette behind the school.
Taking photos of my body and face and clothing and hair in different lights and from different angles and with different levels of makeup or emotions or unshoweredness at play is a way of creating, right now, that feeling of wonder at myself. I don’t always look in real life the way I do in a particular selfie, but I get to look at it when I’m feeling particularly worn down by the barrage of voices, outer, inner, social, and commercial, and tell myself wow, I look good.