A couple of months ago I posted about the world’s first Pope Selfie. I thought at the time that it was important to not only link to the AP photo of the pope taking the selfie, but also to be sure to include the selfie itself. Hmm, does this raise a grammatical question? Is it selfie itself or selffie yourself? Well I guess that it doesn’t really matter.
Now we have the gone viral image of Denmark’s Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt taking a selfie of herself with British Prime Minister David Cameron and U.S. President Barack Obama at Mandela’s memorial service on Tuesday. Before getting further into it let me point out the obvious – two dudes hanging out with and perhaps fawning over a beautiful woman. Nothing new there.
What strikes me about both the Pope’s selfie and Prime Minister Thorning-Schmidt’s selfie is that what we usually see is not the selfie itself but someone else’s photograph of the selfie being taken. The act of taking the image becomes more important than the image. It is as if the whole emphasis had morphed away from the selfie to the act of selfiing(?). This is a curious phenomenon. We all have seen pictures of photographers taking pictures. I’ve even done some myself and, I think, that they can be significant in telling the story of photography, as part of the history of photography. But this, I believe, is something more. I suspect that at some level what is going on is that we have celebrities that we admire or worse worship, and catching them in the act of taking a selfie is the same as saying that they are just like us – which, of course, they are. And better still, they are just as narcissistic as we are, which in turn makes it all right to be self possessed.
Anyway I remain a fan of the self portrait. Although, I think that Chuck Close takes it all a little far. The selfie remains something fun. There is a certain spontaneity about it and, yes, a lack of self-consciousness. This is part of the allure of the cell phone explosion. The more prolific these devices become the less and less we are bothered or taken aback by people snapping pictures. And that means that what we call “modern times” will be quite candidly captured for posterity.