I hate pictures of myself. Honestly since the very first one taken (to my knowledge) that was dubbed by the entire family as “The Frog,” I have been quite aware that photogenic would never by an adjective included in the inventory of my personal traits. Without fail, I will be the one caught in mid-sneeze, awkward position, yawning, with a peculiar-looking bulge, or any of a variety of unflattering positions when a shutter (analog or digital) opens and shuts.
Therefore, I developed a habit that some find completely frustrating and annoying. If I actually notice a camera (or phone) pointed in my general direction with purpose, I would immediately adopt a facial expression much like that Milo Bloom, Bill the Cat, or any of the myriad of other characters in that cartoon strip when presented with something rather disgusting. With my features screwed up in a deliberate approximation of Quasi Modo on a bad day, I would face the lens. When the pictures came out looking horrid, no problem… I meant it to look that way. It wasn’t a happenstance of poorly organized genetic material and my own natural unattractiveness. I had made an effort to look that bad.
And this is what has made me feel completely at sea about the phenomenon of the “selfie.” First of all… who does that? That word. Selfie. Really? Adding an “-ie” to the end of the world making it cute? Smaller? More acceptable that you are totally taking a picture of yourself… by yourself… with your own arm… um… I’ll come back to this…
Granted, it is a modern phenomenon because we now have technology where you can actually hold the device away from your body and snap a picture so very quickly. Imagine trying this with some of the original cameras. Aside from needing the strength of Sampson, you would also have to take off the lens cap and hold the thing perfectly still for … how long? Just not feasible. And yet… they existed. These selfies of another era. Painters even did it. Some of our favorite memes have been created using the self-portrait of Joseph Ducreux, apparently in the guise of a mockingbird (seriously, how is this the guise of a bird?).
He wasn’t the only one, either. Many of the old masters used their own likenesses to paint images, get facial anatomy correct, couldn’t get anyone else to sit for them, pure vanity… who knows? But they did it. The first cameras not only required to person taking the photo to be at the camera itself to remove the covering lens cap, but also hold up the flash powder tray. Occasionally, it even required more than one person to accomplish a fine portrait, but the equipment did improve, become mechanized, and photographers became untethered (which may not be a word) from the camera itself. The first photographers, once they had figured out a device to do so managed to take their own portraits with the aid of remote buttons on cords. Eventually, the cameras came with timers, some analog with clockwork and then evolving to digital. The timers would allow the photographer to come around to the front of the lens and take their position before snap, the shutter opened and shut.
So, what is the point? Well… the self-portrait isn’t new. It is just called by a different name because it seems that we cannot leave language in the descriptive without giving it a nickname. Selfie instead of self-portrait. Well… in truth, not many of these could be considered a portrait. It is rather denigrating to the idea of portraiture.
There are, in my opinion, good reasons for taking a selfie. These reasons include proving you were somewhere, showing off a new hairdo, glasses, etc; or taking a remembrance photo of yourself with others when there are no convenient passersby to assist with capturing the moment. Also, in this day in age and with cameras and phones being light and easily slipped into a pocket, no one really wants to hand over their very portable technology to strangers. It just follows that with the absence of extra people to take the shot and technology capable of allowing self-portrait, selfies are the result.
And now we come to the parts to astound and confound my logic… There are people who absolutely seem to have made selfies a new career. They take pictures of themselves ever moment of every day. They take pictures of themselves in a variety of activities and in a variety of costumes. They take pictures using full length mirrors. They take pictures using something called a selfie-stick. They film video tutorials about how to take the “perfect selfie.” Like Narcissus, they appear to be enamored of their own visage to the extent that it is their primary activity of daily living. This is where I tend to veer off from the trends. I see no sense in this, other than pure and unadulterated ego. Granted there are some absolutely breath-taking individuals out there in the world, but they appear to much less advantage (in my opinion) when they also share this stance. While I do not believe in false modesty, vanity and superficial self-adoration is a huge turn-off. Why do people actually feel the need to take and share so many selfies? Is it desire for attention? Is it that they like their own appearance and want to look at it? Is it that they feel that the aesthetics of their own face is a benefit to the well-being of others…?
I don’t know. I know that I have never felt this to be the case for me. As I said, I am one of the least photogenic people on the planet. The “good” pictures of me can pretty much fit into a letter-sized envelope and wouldn’t take more than standard postage to mail. Other acceptable pictures of me are made so by the addition of other individuals who are not only dear to me but usually more pleasing to the eye.
That being said, a further obstacle to my joining the ranks of the selfie-stickers and self-portraiture aficionados… I suck at selfies. I do. It’s true. I’ve never mastered the proper angle or the face contortions that approximate a supermodel (or more likely Mike Myers in the Sprockets skit on SNL). Truth be told, the cat is much better at it than I am (seriously, the cat that lives here has managed to take photos of himself on my phone and they look much better than anything I’ve attempted). There is no part of me that relishes having multiple pictures of my own face on my own phone or available to the public. I recognize that there are “different strokes for different folks.” So, I suppose if that is your thing, then by all means, pucker up and tilt that head at just the right angle… but I must say, I still find it all completely unfathomable.