Collecting “selfies”

Figure 1 - A rare selfie of the author, (c) DE Wolf 2013.

Figure 1 – A rare “selfie” of the author, (c) DE Wolf 2013.

I went out to lunch with my wife last Saturday, and we wound up checking out the Eileen Fisher Company Store.  This is a pretty husband friendly store.  They have a nice array of “husband chairs” and they do not clutter them up with piles of clothing.  You can also sit and watch an endless video loop on a  big screen TV about eco-friendly fabric dying and the sixteen ways to tie a scarf. So if you want to discuss either of these, I’m quite definitely your man!

But after a while the videos became old, and my wife had yet to emerge from the dressing room; so I took to reading the news on my cell phone.  There I came upon a blog by Helen A. S. Popkin for NBC News entitled “Don’t try this at home: all the selfies you’re hopefully never going to take.”  It is Popkin’s hypothesis, and I think a rather safe one, that all the hubbub about selfies in 2013 is only going to be eclipsed by the hubbub about them in 2014.  Basically this is the age of the selfie craze.

I strain to project my mind forward fifty years.  It is a humbling exercise, because we never know all the twists and turns that nature and mankind will take.  Still I am pretty sure that just as we today go to major museums, like the Metropolitan in NY, the MFA in Boston, or the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, to see retrospectives about, for instance, the Kodachrome Era or Snapshots of the Sixties, our progeny will head to these, or other, museums to see the great retrospective about The Golden Age of the Selfie.  You can pretty much count on it, and it will be fun for them to see and wonder what was going on in the minds of these self-possessed, just as we now look and wonder about those people in the Daguerreotypes.

Hmm!  It is easy enough to imagine this.  Where things get interesting is when you try to understand how monetary value will become attached to these selfies as collectors’ items.  People collect early photographs and great photographs.  Today they collect the memorabilia photographs of the mid-twentieth century.  The point is that these are on paper, glass, or metal.  They are by definition one-of-a-kind and rare.  How does this kind of collection translate going forward into this and future centuries?

Years ago you would met someone, say on a bus, and after a while you would pull out your wallet and show snapshots of your family, and yes even your pets.  Today you pull out your smart phone.  The smart phone has the same size, format, and perspective of the snapshots of old.  The are copyable and easily transferable.  Still the simple fact of their being merely stored as so many pixels and bytes makes them vulnerable in the long term.  You don’t even have to bother throwing them in the trash to send them to ignominious oblivion.

This simplicity of destruction will make them intrinsically rare.  So I am thinking that some entrepreneurial sort will find a way to make money selling them.  And that’s where it will all begin.

In her blog – you see they’re no longer columns or articles, but blogs – Pokin quotes  a user-submitted definition of “Selfie” on the crowd-sourced “Urban Dictionary:

“The taking of a picture of yourself and posting it on Facebook because you have extremely low self-esteem and you need people to comment to tell you how hot or pretty you look.”

I predict that a some point those of these narcissistic examples of human vanity will become more than so.  They will make the transition to art – not just art, but collectable art.

This entry was posted in Essays on Photography.

One Comment

  1. Jane ambash November 5, 2013 at 11:24 am #

    I’m hoping you can teach me scarf-tying 101.