Selfies have become the universal term for digital self-portraits supported by the explosion of smartphone cameras, photo-editing and social media platforms. Social media is overflowing with millions of them. Everyone from the pope to the Obama girls has been spotted taking a sneaky selfie. Who can forget Ellen Degeneres’ 2014 Oscars selfie (pictured above) that in fact became the most retweeted photo of all time with over 3.2 million shares.
Western civilization has a rich history of self-portraiture. Where once they were reserved for the elite, smart phones and Instagram have democratized self-portraiture, making them ‘less precious and more fun’. Indeed In Jerry Saltz’s article ‘Art at Arm’s Length: A History of the Selfie’ Saltz notes that selfies have in fact ‘become their own visual genre- a type of self portraiture formally distinct from all others in history. Selfies have their own structural autonomy’, to which he claims is ‘a very big deal for art’.
While the notion that your drunk best friends, duck face pout, uploaded to Instagram in a vodka haze is a form of art is somewhat unsettling, and mildly insulting to the world of creative arts as a whole, it cannot be denied that selfies are in fact a form of art. Albeit a product of our obsessive, narcissistic, participatory culture, Saltz describes selfies as a powerful, instantaneous ironic interaction that has intensity, intimacy, and strangeness’.
Whether you view selfies as a side effect of digital culture or a sad form of exhibitionism, perhaps it’s better off seeing selfies for what they are at their best — a kind of visual diary, a way to mark our short existence and hold it up to others as proof that we were here.