I can’t imagine that this is a very original thought, and the evidence for this will be seen at the end of this post, but clearly the selfie is not a recent phenomena. I mean, we’ve been making images of ourselves since, well, since we were cavemen:
This thought first occurred to me when I remembered images I had taken of myself about 20 years ago in the mirror using my old SLR camera. Taking a selfie wasn’t as easy as it is now, back in the 1990’s I used my Pentax SLR which used actual film which had to be developed and then an image printed from the negative before you could really see what kind of image you had taken. This may be a bit of an alien concept to my children who expect to be able to look in the viewfinder to instantly see the image that has just been taken, but it wasn’t that long ago that we had to follow this procedure every time we took a photo. I fear something of the art may have been lost in the comparative ease with which we can make images these days. Yes, I sound like a sad old person and I am not yet 50 years of age. Here are some of those selfies I took all those years ago. The first in a mirror with a strange wobbly texture in a hotel room in Florence when I was on holiday with my sister travelling round Italy in 1992. I think I’d just washed my hair. The second is a bit later with a very fetching white face-mask.
Artists have used themselves as models since forever, partly I think because this is an artist’s model who doesn’t need to be paid, won’t get bored before you do, is always available, and can be manipulated to be what you want to portray at any time. This is evident in the work of Frida Kahlo, one of my absolute favourite artists ever. I admire her for many reasons, those who know of her will be aware that this Mexican artist started getting seriously painting whilst ill with Polio when just a child, and then when bedridden after a serious tram accident that nearly killed her – and continued her amazing and brave examination of her own image until she died in 1954. There’s an interesting reflection on her life and work on this blog: Leaving Evidence. Frida said of her self-portraits:
“I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.” –Frida Kahlo
Another artist who interested me when at art college was Cindy Sherman, an American photographer and film director whose photographic self-portraits examined her own nature, and that of women in general. I don’t think I’m explaining this too well so I’ll borrow the words of an article on her work in the ArtHistoryArchive.
As in her photographs, Cindy Sherman creates a whole new world, which slightly resembles the one we know, but which operates on its own, bizarre terms. Office Killer is a highly creative work that defies easy definition: it is art and it is camp, it is both within the genre and a self-conscious comment on it, it is horrifying and it is funny. But like every Cindy Sherman creation, it is like nothing any of us has seen before.
Whilst at WOMAD music festival I started taking snaps of people creating their own selfies – the poses and contortions required to get a good shot was kind of interesting, especially if you don’t have one of those extending selfie sticks.
I started this post 10 days ago – I’ve been a bit busy with stuff in between and didn’t get to finish it. So, of course I realise I was too late (as usual) to sound at all original when my partner shared this Facebook post with me today: