June 25, 2013

Rise of self-photo brings out paparazzi in us

The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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This combo image of six undated images shows self-portraits taken by Nikki Anderson, 19, of Massachusetts. The practice of freezing and sharing our tiniest slices of life in "selfies" has become so popular that the granddaddy of dictionaries, the Oxford, is monitoring the term as a possible addition. (AP Photo/Nikki Anderson)

"Albrecht Durer's self-portraiture is these incredible self-reflections and explorations of technique, and then when Rihanna snaps her picture it's just self-aggrandizement, or it's promotion, so you have a fairly interesting double standard based upon who's taking the self-portrait," said Rutledge, in Boston.

In selfies, we can be famous and in control of our own images and storylines. As for the young, the more authority figures – parents, teachers – dislike them and "declare them a sign of a self-obsessed, narcissistic generation, the more desirable they become," she said.

The word selfie in itself carries multiple connotations, Rutledge observes. "The 'ie' at the end makes selfie a diminutive, implying some affection and familiarity." From a semantic's perspective, the selfie is a "little' self" – a small, friendly bit of the self, she said.

There's a sense of immediacy and temporariness. "Granted, little is really temporary on the Internet, but it is more that by definition. Transient, soon to be upstaged by the next one," Rutledge said.

Self-portraits tagged as 'selfie' first surfaced on Flickr, a photo-sharing site, and on MySpace in 2004, Rutledge said. The earliest reference in UrbanDictionary was to "selfy" in 2005.

In historical terms, elites in Ancient Egypt were fond of self-portraits, Rutledge said. And then there was the mirror, invented in the 15th century and allowing artists like the prolific Durer in Germany to have at it in more meaningful detail.

While the self-involved Narcissus stared at his reflection in a pond in Greek mythology, it was the mirror that "really was the first piece of technology where an artist could see his own image long enough to paint it, other than just painting self-impressions," Rutledge said.

Fast forward to the 1860s and the advent of cameras, launching a new round of selfies, though they took considerable skill and expense.

Leap with us once again to 2010 and the launch of Instagram, and on to 2012, when 86 percent of the U.S. population had a cell phone, bringing on the cheaper selfie as social media and mobile Internet access spread.

"What's most interesting to me is how we're trying to grapple with what it means," Rutledge said. "We know what it means when we see somebody's picture of their kid holding a soccer ball. We're OK with that. And we know what it means to have a portrait in a high school yearbook or of a real estate agent on a business card. We know how to think about all of those things, but we don't know how to think about this mass production of self-reflection."

Is it possible the selfie doesn't mean anything at all?

"In the era of the Kardashians, everyone has become their own paparazzi," mused Rachel Weingarten, a personal-brand consultant in New York.

Another New Yorker, 14-year-old Beatrice Landau, tends to agree. She regularly uploads selfies, from vacation shots on Instagram to fleeting images using Snapchat, a phone app that deletes them after 10 seconds.

"I know selfies are ridiculous, but it's definitely part of our 'teenage culture,'" Beatrice said. "You don't have to have a person with you to take a picture of you, when you can take one yourself."

 

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