“But first, lemme take a selfie…” – The Chainsmokers
A new kind of photo has been making rounds in the age we can safely term as the visual age. Never in human history have we been surrounded by so many images, whether it’s painting, graphics, animations, photographs or film-images, we simply can’t escape pictures. They have become the new mode of communication, as it were, having pushed the word, the linear writing in the background to claim all the space of our cerebral, emotional consciousness.The new addition to this multitude, for lack of a better word, has been named selfie.
But really? Can’t one argue that what we are calling “selfies” is nothing but a reprisal of the age old art of self-portraiture that masters like Rembrandt and Van Gogh have practised to perfection? Isn’t it an art which since Renaissance has been well established, at least from the point of view of technique and perceptive variety? Think of M.C Escher’s self-portrait in a crystal bowl. Defying all conceivable levels of formal complexity, the etching surprises the viewer by its flawless execution.
So, what newness do selfies have to offer? Do they have any unrealized potential to rise to the ranks of genre paintings and become an art-form?
In order to put in perspective the phenomenon of selfie, firstly, a few distinctions will have to be made between portraiture and a self-snap. A portrait is not a communication tool. It isn’t meant to convey anything, except perhaps embodying the idea of ‘l’art pour l’art”, nothing but in the service of art.
The other thing that distinguishes a portrait is the framing and perspective and how spatially physical proportions of the figure in the frame are achieved. Everything gets importance: right from the pose to the slightly bent neck and carefully drawn out shoulders of unequal height. In contrast, selfie is not carried out with any care whatsoever. It is spontaneous, immediate; and often just the aspect that makes selfie a perfect document of human face in all its glory, err, not this one exactly:
It is possible to point out the pretensions of the self in the selfie, but selfie as such doesn’t hold any pretensions. It doesn’t (as of now) claim to be anything more than a piece of information, which can turn out to be very important if the event is memorable but otherwise contains nothing that can save it from falling into oblivion. Nor is it a photograph that serves memory– they are so many that you won’t bother recollecting. In fact, art critics have been going gaga over the new phenomenon, remarking that the selfie marks the shift in the function photographs serve from memorial to a communicative device.
Selfie is a celebration of the present; it is one of the ways in which the self performs and stages itself, sometimes in a self-critical, but mostly in a mock-witty, ironic and parodic manner. Prank selfies are in abundance as well and you would be better off not looking at some (you know what we mean)!
It’s all very well to project selfie as the next thing but can it make it big as a genre? Will we see selfie-stories or selfies that will document ordeals and fears and family histories? We have taken off in a direction but only time can tell if it’s the right one. For now it looks safe to say that selfies are here and they are going to stay, for better or for worse, we don’t know yet.
Are you riding the selfie wave? Do you know of someone who does? Don’t forget to share this with those people. What did you think of this gem? Leave your comments in the comment box below to let us know.