Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Self-Portrait Vs. The Selfie

The Self-Portrait Vs. The Selfie: What They Are and Why They're different

When I was in photography school, given it was not that long ago, one of the most important subjects we were taught was the history of photography, from the very beginning to present day. For the contemporary, we learned about the great photographers that made incredible impacts on the photography world in the last 10 to 30 years, which allowed us to see what photographers had created once photography had truly became an artistic media. One of the most important lessons was the art of the self-portrait.

Nan Goldin by Nan Goldin

Now, obviously photography was not the first medium people used for self-portraits; that had been done plenty of times through sculpture, paint, etc. but, self-portrait in photography also offered photographers a way to portray themselves in an artistic way, and many photographers built projects on self-portraits alone, notably photographers like Nan Goldin and Lee Friedlander. 

Lee Friedlander by Lee Friedlander

Other photographers, like Richard Avedon, used the self-portraiture as a means to mimic work that they were already creating, much like his portraits of celebrities or In The American West

Richard Avedon by Richard Avedon

Robert Mapplethorpe used self-portraits to show the many ways in which he saw himself from drag to costume. 

Robert Mapplethorpe by Robert Mapplethorpe

Still others, like Vivian Maier, did not define themselves by their self-portraits, but they were an addition project to pursue in contrast to work they had become known for. The self-portrait was an art form unto itself; an expression, an experiment, and exploration.

Vivian Maier by Vivian Maier

The self-portrait is more than just a portrait of yourself.

...Then, there was the “selfie”.

My version of the "selfie". Notice the Robert Mapplethorpe self-portrait t-shirt

Born of a generation glued to our phones and computers, of which I am a guilty party, the selfie, as defined by Urban Dictionary, is “A picture taken of yourself that is planned to be uploaded to Facebook, [Instagram] or any other sort of social networking website.” Taken on the iPhone, Photo Booth and everything in between, the selfie has become absolutely unavoidable. Unlike the self-portrait, the selfie lacks any sort of artistic meaning; there is no expression of self, there is no experimentation of personal work or inspiration, there is no exploration into what you yourself are or could be. But, that is it's purpose. The selfie was not created to provoke thought, but to show a moment, whether or not it is relevant in this time and space (or history at all). 

The selfie is kinda bringing the self-portrait down.

Let’s bring back the self-portrait.

Written by Kane Giblin. The views in this blog post are those of Kane Giblin and may not represent the views of Foto Care.