“I see you through the veil”
You can’t talk about selfies without talking about the self. And being curious about some things, I can’t really talk about the self without bringing up subjects like the technoself, society, and the social web. So here I am, sharing a selfie taken in my bathroom, of course, with my clunky camera veiling half of my face. Can you see me enough, anonymous surfers? Am I hiding enough for you? Should I have zoomed in a little more, or zoomed out? Am I fitting in? Am I following the rules? Do I fit in? Do I fit in? Do I fit in?…
I’ve been inspired to share this self-portrait of myself for this week’s Photo Challenge, “Selfie,” in light of some recent debate in parts of the world on the ban of full face veils. Selfies and veils seem disconnected from each other at first glance, don’t they? One closer to exhibitionist, the other leaning towards complete anonymity. Just to let you know, this post isn’t about Islam. It isn’t about women. It isn’t even about religion. It’s all about the Selfie.
Both the veil and the selfie inspire debate–some more passionate about them than others, and after thinking about these topics this week, it seemed to me the core of all these debates about online expression and public privacy is a fear of the unknown. The debates are all symptoms of what I think the real issue is: our problem with defining identity in a modern society.
Selfies, which seemingly are the opposite of veiling, have become the trend in the way of self-expression through online media. Selfies seem to be a way to mask our own insecurities, perhaps, about not being good enough. A techno-veil of sorts that helps us interact with others at a safe distance, where the threat of vulnerability isn’t as intense as it is in the face to face world. Sharing photos of retouched pores, partying, cinched waists, or sexy shots where the messy background of our unmade beds are hiding in the camera’s blind spots. It makes us feel in control of our realities, and maybe even allows us to hallucinate more vividly our own fame by seeing our own photos on major websites. It makes us feel more important, for a minute or two.
Yes these photos can be vain, yes they can be creepy, yes they can be obnoxious, and yes, they can also be inspiring, heart-warming, and even annoying. Who wants to see the same picture of you in three different shades, for instance (like I’ve done in this post)?
Many people have become obsessed with taking selfies and have been criticized for buying a few “Likes” for the price of living in the moment. Even the president of the United States couldn’t resist snapping a selfie at Mandela’s memorial service. [Link].
Say Cheese, Mr. President
Is this a symptom of a shared identity crisis? Can we not accept who we are unless others acknowledge us? Is it even about acknowledgement, or is it about recognition and popularity?
In spite of clear criticism of the selfie wave, actor James Franco has written a piece on the New York Times in support of taking selfies saying:
“We all have different reasons for posting them, but, in the end, selfies are avatars: Mini-Me’s that we send out to give others a sense of who we are.”
He concludes by painting a clearer picture of what it may mean to share a selfie.
“In our age of social networking, the selfie is the new way to look someone right in the eye and say, ‘Hello, this is me.’”
Personally, I have not participated in Instagram until recently– only by opening up an account and uploading a profile picture. That was it, for months. I am still to share anything more. I have stayed away from posting my photos online for a long time, even making it hard to keep in touch with family members who are abroad. There are fears and discomforts I’ve had that are slowly fading away with time, and although this still feels very strange to me, I’m giving the whole photo sharing thing a try. I’m an artist who creates and keeps to herself. But maybe that’s not right. What if I can share something that pleases me to create and pleases others to experience at the same time?
So if I do this, if we all do this, what sort of philosophy are we participating in with the Selfie, “I selfie therefore I am”? This seems to be the proposition here. (Sorry, Descartes.)
Maybe the reason we’re obsessed with taking selfies is the same reason our ancestors have been attached to retaining memories, albeit through different methods like story-telling; painting on stones, and composing songs. If a photo is worth a thousand words, doesn’t that make photography a form of story-telling? It seems like the idea of being in a photo makes us feel more alive, more connected to our past, and more in control of our experiences.
Or rather, it is a reminder that we are experiencing anything at all. Somehow in our vanity, insanity, and normality, we equate the taking of a selfie to existence. In a wordless way, all we’re trying to say is “I was here.”