Selfie and Self Portraiture

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The origin of the selfie was much less a creation from the action people took using cameras, but rather the preservation and identities kept within the photo that makes the transition of the selfie to fit the modern world much more interesting. Selfie was a termed coined most likely in 2012, where there was an abnormal growth in the usage of the word. The selfie began more as the term ‘self portrait’ but this composed much more than a simple picture. In “”How to See the World””, by Nicholas Mirzoeff, he explains that people choose to take self portraits to show where they stood in the world but they also create a replica of our unconscious.

Mirzoeff uses examples that dramatised their lives in a way that paints an image unlike their reality. Some self portraits are painted, before cameras were invented and popularized. Mirzoeff uses the painting of Hippolyte Bayard, who is framed as “”a Drowned Man””. Bayard’s self portrait conveys the exact concept Mirzoeff is aiming for; the unconscious desire to represent a fake reality. Bayard’s desire is to be dead. Mirzoeff even says “”Some people even thought Bayard really was dead””. This of course, was a self portrait, which creates an interesting idea about the aims of a painted self portrait.

Paintings for a self portrait held arguably more underlying commentary from the artist about the person in the artwork than it would for the modern preservation of a selfie today. Mirzoeff mentions a painter; Elisabeth Vigee Lebrun who famously painted Marie Antoinette and then herself in comparison. The commentary around these self portraits lays in the positioning and details given to each.

It comments on the social-economic status of both and their mannerisms and mocks Marie Antoinette as well. Vigee-Lebrun’s self portrait of Antoinette has her painted as elegantly dressed but lacking in emotional connectivity to the real life of a woman. She holds a rose, and is trapped into this idea of being a high class lady which aligns to the ideas of the 18th century. Women are meant to be ladylike and the importance of a self portrait portraying complexity of the conscious and unconscious desires are lost.

Whereas in Vigee-Lebrun’s self portrait called “”Madame Vigee and Her Daughter Julie””, there is commentary on the 18th century lifestyle for women, by the composure of her and her daughter posing, embracing with love and care. It was uncommon for women to care for their own children in the 18th century, and Vigee-Lebrun as a strong feminist took to a brush to express the details of her angered unconscious. As compared to Marie Antoinette’s garments,Vigee-Lebrun’s are softened to the eyes and display the act of being a ‘true’ mother.

These senses of identity and commentary of self have transitioned into being a permanent in how the modern world looks at themselves. For a more personal example, photos in my family often represent the rift of relatability between my older family members to the youngest ones. The best photo that represents this the one where my extended family squeezes in for a family photo in front of a Christmas tree.

There are multiple copies of this event, and I mention event but not photo because each copy shows the movement of my family, from the younger ones running around to the older ones, scolding them to those in the middle, whipping out their phones. This was the first and last photo that included my extended family due to the complete hassle it was. But it is curious to look back at it and see the interesting details each member of the family has. I’ll focus on the youngest,middle and oldest members of the group, from Baby Ruthie, Allison to Nana (who is my great-great grandmother).

This was meant to be a photo where everyone has on their Rudolph pajamas, atlas, only half the family is wearing them. Nana has on a lilac dress with what looks like little dogs – they might be cherries- and heels. She’s actually holding her thick framed glasses in her hand and with the other, the Bible. My cousin Allison, who stands next to me, has on her Rudolph pajamas, but has out her phone and is on snapchat, recording Baby Ruthie. Ruthie is crawling around, with the Rudolph top but missing the bottoms and has a diaper on full view. I use this photo to explain the importance of our family selfies, as they contain all of us at different stages in our lives. It shows how we experience the same memories differently and the importance of these photos.

This was the last photo of Nana before she passed and it is the strongest memory I have with her. Her attire shows her attitude about our Christmas tradition and reveals the comfort she had in herself. Allison’s behavior comments on how that generation is growing up in the world. Her phone is her key of access to life, and in turn she becomes bound to it. Baby Ruthie presents the simplicity and struggles for parents and children growing up. Her defiance in the photo converses with her parent’s desires for her to behave.

In a broader aspect, the meaning behind the word ‘Selfie’ has convulsed into a change in the meaning of self representation in visual aspects of culture. The ‘selfie’ introduces an idea about perfectionism in the visual culture. Only the best shots are kept and mistakes are erased without a second thought. This is interesting when looking at how a person decides to represent a part of themselves or wholly, visually.

One has to take into account what will be interpreted by the viewer and where this is intended by the artist. Personally, I like candid selfies because it tells others that these moments I am presenting are real and I have not taken a hundred in order to present the most perfect part of a measly second of my life. I believe that selfies pressure others and the viewer into considering that perfection means satisfaction and attention from others. Especially on Facebook, selfies are manufactured by the individual to show only the best part of their life and it promotes a toxic take on the simplicity of the ‘Selfie’.

Overall, the term “”selfie”” promotes different aspects and ideas of a person’s life in a few quick seconds. It has evolved from the painted self portraits to their digital copies over generations of time and has changed how someone views themselves online as well as other people. The representation of a selfie in my family bridges the different generations and tells a lot about what type of environment they grew up in.

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Selfie and Self Portraiture. (2020, Jan 04). Retrieved from

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