Tuesday, June 11, 2013

What Selfies Don't Tell Us

Behold, the original selfie.

Vincent van Gogh painted a slew of these during his lifetime, using a mirror to carefully reconstruct his face with both careful and rapid strokes. With hat, without hat, with paint, without ear. These portraits are the most valued of his work, for good reason.

But our generation doesn't usually do self portraits. We do selfies. We take them in the mirror, with our camera in hand, or with the flip function. We shoot our good side, and then choose a filter to make it our even better side.

We hold our phones, our camera, our friend's phones, iPads, Photobooth at a bit of a distance, and just a little bit higher than our head, because that's what makes your cheekbones protrude, and that's what makes your eyes look bigger. And then we take photos with our friends, and we purse our lips and look at each other from the corner of our eyes, and capture each time we reunite, each time we have adventure.

We fill our phones with apps to be able to do this, and spend time at dinner tables and on the train to make a collage of various moments, and outfits and dangling earrings.

And man, we think, it will be great to have these later. It will be great to remember his wedding and that time you and your friend fell on the ground at the music festival, and that day when you were stuck in the cold rain-hail with hair plastered to your face under a red hood, and needed to share in the misery via Instagram. You can show your kids someday.

But it's different, a little less real.

Because selfies are so quick, and so flippant, and so perfectly positioned to capture the same aspect of you, again and again. If you were painting a self portrait, you wouldn't be able to hold a fake smile so long, or forgive yourself for keeping your lips like that. If someone else was taking your photo, they wouldn't be concentrating on hiding that scar you got when you were four, because they could see you as more than the sum of your features.

We take selfies to remember, we take selfies to get compliments, and that's cool, even great.  There's nothing wrong with looking at ourselves -- it's a natural sort of naval gazing. A historic, sometimes healthy, narcissism.

But we don't, can't, use selfies to self-reflect, because even our reflection in the mirror is more true than what fits in a Picframe.  The lens is skewed. It's limiting, and edited to fit the boundaries of who we think we are. And everyone knows we are much, much more.

In any case:

1 comment:

Albert said...

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