Though the self-portrait has been hailed as the defining artistic genre of modernity, there is not yet a good account of what the self-portrait actually is. This paper provides such an account through the lens of document theory and the philosophy of information. In this paper, the self-portrait is conceptualized as a kind of document, more specifically a kind of self-document, to gain insight into the phenomenon. A self-portrait is shown to be a construction, and not just a representation, of oneself. Creating a self-portrait then is a matter of bringing oneself forth over time—constructing oneself, rather than simply depicting oneself. This account provides grounds to consider whether or how the selfie truly is a form of self-portrait, as is often asserted. In the end, it seems that while both are technologies for self-construction, the self-portrait has the capacity for deep self-construction, whereas the selfie is limited to fewer aspects of the self. This prospect leads into an ethical discussion of the changing concept of identity in the digital age.
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