With selfies, world turns camera on itself
WASHINGTON—Stuck on a ledge halfway up a 1,000-meter cliff in Oman, his climbing rope sliced in two by sharp rocks, Jimmy Chin did what anyone else would have done in his predicament.
He took a selfie.
“I had some time to figure out what I was going to do,” said Chin, a National Geographic photographer whose images of extreme climbing by the Straits of Hormuz appear in the magazine’s January issue.
“That’s when I took the selfie,” he told Agence France-Presse. “It was one of those moments when, ‘Well, I’m a Nat Geo photographer.’ I had to document [the moment]. It was pretty classic.”
Self-portraiture has been around for centuries but the global proliferation of smartphones with built-in digital cameras—plus the ability to share photos instantly on social media—has taken the genre to a new level.
Word of the year
With 2013 coming to a close, the publishers of the hallowed Oxford English Dictionary, arguably the final authority in anglophone lexicography, declared selfie to be their “word of the year.”
“Selfie: noun, informal. A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or web cam and uploaded to a social media website,” according to Oxford. “Also: selfy. Plural: selfies.”
Internet search provider Yahoo! meanwhile estimates that in 2014, about 880 billion photographs will be taken. That’s 123 photos for every man, woman and child on Earth. Many will be selfies.
In Britain, a survey for Samsung found that 17 percent of men and 10 percent of women take selfies because “they enjoy taking good-looking photos of themselves.”
“I think selfie is a term of endearment for the self, in a way,” said Sarah Kennel, curator of photography at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, who admits to taking the odd selfie herself.
“It does reflect a kind of narcissism in our culture,” she told AFP.
US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron got tongues wagging when they took a selfie with Danish leader Helle Thorning Schmidt at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service in South Africa.
Sign of the times
“What an incredible sign of the times,” children’s photographer Sarah Sloboda, author of the e-book “How to Take the Best Selfies,” told AFP. “That’s the kind of thing you can put in a time capsule to represent this period.”
No one knows if Obama and friends had even heard of Selfies at Funerals, an equally controversial Tumblr compilation of, well, selfies taken at funerals, mainly by young people.
“When a teen tweets out a funeral selfie, their friends don’t castigate them,” its founder Jason Feifer explained in Britain’s The Guardian newspaper.
“They understand that their friend, in their own way, is expressing an emotion they may not have words for. It’s a visual language that older people—even those like me, in their 30s—simply don’t speak,” Feifer said.
The year also saw Pope Francis in a selfie with teenagers at the Vatican as well as pop diva Beyoncé turning up in a smiling fan’s selfie in Australia, to cite a couple of Time magazine’s “11 most memorable selfies of 2013.”
From Los Angeles, gossip blogger Perez Hilton declared a pink-haired Miley Cyrus posing for herself in a skimpy Lil’ Kim Halloween costume his favorite among countless celebrity selfies over the past 12 months.
But there’s no need to be famous to become famous for a selfie.
Thanks to Reddit and other social media websites, goofy selfies of a proud 20-something dad in the Pacific Northwest state of Oregon mimicking the faces of his newborn baby daughter went viral overnight.
“We just watched the camera screen and copied whatever face she was making,” Eddie Wheeler explained to his fellow Reddit users.
In Norway, popular fitness blogger Caroline Berg Eriksen snapped herself in a mirror wearing bra and panties, showing off a firm flat tummy just four days after she gave birth.
Critics branded her selfie a “disservice” to women but Eriksen struck back, saying she took it—and shared it—“because I’m proud of myself and my body for something as tough as a pregnancy/birth.”
And then there was the young woman in New York who snapped a selfie with the Brooklyn Bridge—and an attempted suicide leap—in the background. That image caused a stir when it made page one of the New York Post.