Exercise 4.4: The selfie revisited: testimony or trophy?

In 2013, the Oxford English Dictionary attributed ‘selfie’ with ‘word of the year’. Everyone and anyone seemed to be taking selfies. Celebrities with other celebrities, and celebrities with their adoring fans. Taylor Swift commented that:

I haven’t been asked for an autograph since the invention of the iPhone with a front-facing camera. The only momento ‘kids these days’ want is a selfie.” 

During 2015, 24 billion selfies were uploaded. The latest smart phones now have a second, front facing camera, which enables the user to photograph themself at arms length, ensuring they’re in the frame. It would appear as though this was a recent phenomenon, which  has transformed our image making culture. However, the practice of taking self-portraits can be traced back throughout the history of photography. 

Even when photography was in its infancy, photographers were taking photographs of themselves. If the definition of a selfie is a self-portrait, then it is widely believed that the first selfie was created by amateur chemist and photography enthusiast Robert Cornelius’ (below), which he took in 1839. 

Self-portrait, by Robert Cornelius

Self-portrait, by Robert Cornelius

However, others insist that a selfie is a photograph taken using a digital device and posting it online. Therefore the first known modern selfie was taken and posted online by an Australian student, called Hopey, in September 2002 (below). It shows the injuries that he sustained from tripping over during a 21st birthday party.  

The first modern selfie, by Hopey.

The first modern selfie, by Hopey.

Before the addition of a front-facing camera on digital devices, people had to make do with photographing themselves in bedroom and bathroom mirrors. They would go to great lengths to capture themselves looking their best. 

On Instagram there are over 328,000,000 images tagged with #selfie. So why has taking selfies become so popular?  

Previously, if you wanted your photograph taken in front of a famous landmark, you might have politely asked a stranger if they could use your camera. However, due to the amount of private and personal information stored on expensive smart phones, it is understandable as to why people would want to take the photograph themselves. Furthermore, the increase in popularity of social networking sites such as Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook has provided digital natives with a platform to post images of themselves. 

Despite its popularity, not everyone is a fan of the selfie. The urge for people to photograph themselves and publish the results of their social media is considered to be narcissistic by some. The aim of many posters is to accumulate as many ‘likes’ for their selfie as possible. However, Schwarz (2010: 180) warns that: ‘extracting value from your body is a risky game. A high stakes example of this would be on dating apps, such as Tinder, whereby a single swipe determines how desirable a selfie is.

Conversely, the selfie could be viewed as an acceptable form of self-expression. After all artists, such as Picasso and Van Gogh often painted their own self-portrait, so why should it be any different for a photographer?  


Schwarz, Ori (2010) ‘On Friendship, Boobs and the Logic of the Catalogue: Online Self-Portraits as a Means for the Exchange of Capital’, Convergence 16( 2): 163–283


VR and QR

Digital cameras, whether they're DSLRs, point and shoots, tablets or smart phones, are now so advanced that it is difficult to imagine how they can be improved further.  

The price of memory cards has continued to go down, whilst the amount of available storage has increased in gigabytes to terabytes. Surely there are only so many images that you would want to risk leaving on a memory card without backing them up. Meanwhile, digital cameras are able to capture images in more than 20 megapixels. Would it be necessary to produce images greater than that, when the majority of them will be either filling up pixels on the screens of digital devices, or languishing somewhere on an external hard drive? 

What will be the next major development for digital photography? As the need for data storage increases, maybe there will be a more efficient alternative to megapixels. Could holographic images be the next focus?

At the moment Virtual Reality offers a lot of potential, placing the viewer within the visual experience. This year has seen the rise of oculus goggles and other gaming devices. I wonder if this will be just another fad, which goes the same way as 3D TV. It's difficult enough to find the remote control, without having to look for your 3D glasses as well!

Recently on Facebook, one of my friends had uploaded a group photograph. There were so many people in the group, that it was taken using the panorama setting. When displayed on the screen, the viewer could tilt their phone to 'explore' the image. I really liked how this enabled the onlooker to determine what direction they went in to review the image.  It reminded me of the virtual reality environment of computer games.

My iPhone has a pano setting, which I have never used before. I am wondering if I could adopt it for my course. I can see the potential of it, and it appears not to be widely used. However, I am aware of the danger of letting the technology lead the project. I will only use it if it feels appropriate to use. 

Whilst I was thinking of new approaches to photography, I thought about how QR codes are used and how they haven't really developed further. QR, or Quick Recall, codes are the small black and white squares, that appear on posters and promotional material. Similar to bar codes, QR codes can be scanned to access other associated information, such as a weblink, map,  or video. Once again, the technology offers lots of potential, yet it hasn't really been fully utilised. I am wondering whether I could use QR codes in my own photography. This is something I would like to explore further.