About the Editor and Authors
Defined as a self-image made with a hand-held mobile device and shared via social media platforms, the selfie has facilitated self-imaging becoming a ubiquitous part of globally networked contemporary life. Beyond this, selfies have facilitated a diversity of image-making practices and enabled otherwise representationally marginalized constituencies to insert self-representations into visual culture. In the Western European and North American art-historical context, self-portraiture has been somewhat rigidly albeit obliquely defined, and selfies have facilitated a shift regarding who literally holds the power to self-image. Like self-portraits, not all selfies are inherently aesthetically or conceptually rigorous or Contemporary Art. But—as this project aims to address via a variety of interdisciplinary approaches—selfies have irreversibly impacted visual culture, contemporary art, and portraiture in particular. The essays gathered herein reveal that in our current moment, it is necessary and advantageous to consider the merits and interventions of selfies and self-portraiture in an expanded field of self-representations. Selfies propose new modes of self-imaging, forward emerging aesthetics and challenge established methods, proving that as scholars and image-makers, it is necessary to adapt and innovate in order to contend with the most current form of self-representation to date. From various interdisciplinary global perspectives, authors investigate various subgenres, aesthetic practices, and lineages in which selfies intervene to enrich the discourse on self-representation in the expanded field today.
Issues in Self-Representation
The promise of self portraiture is that we can see ourselves and be seen as queer, women, non-binary, and people of color. Racialized and gendered bodies can also be rendered objects and spectacles in their representation. This essay and interview by Sita Kuratomi Bhaumik in conversation with artists Patrick “Pato” Hebert and David Lydell Jones, is a dialogue between artists of color that contends with the problems and possibilities of self representation.
This chapter looks closely at the photographic diptych “Madame Mama Bush and Afro Goddess with Hand Between Legs”, as displayed in the 2016 exhibition “Mickalene Thomas: Muse” at Aperture Gallery in New York. Though previous exhibitions highlighted Thomas‘s innovative use of materials, the approach to her subjects and virtuosity as a painter, “Mickalene Thomas: Muse” showcased the American artist’s engagement with photography—as a medium, a set of ideas, and an institutional history. This chapter excavates some of the ways in which Thomas’ photographic work creates space for relational articulations of self-love, self-representation, and divahood that frustrate controlling images of black women in Western art. After introducing the concepts of divahood and black feminist love politics, the chapter follows gestural resonances and evocations of self-love in the photographs and the exhibition. By engaging with self-love at the nexus of pleasure, care, and collectivity, the “Madame Mama Bush and Afro Goddess with Hand Between Legs” and the “Muse” installation at large eschew representational associations of the black female body with exploitation, favoring feeling, sensual, and relational articulations images of the self in photographs.
“From Self to #Selfie: An Introduction” reflects upon a 2017 exhibition curated by Rudy Lemcke, featuring nine video projects by LGBTQ artists Kia LaBeija, Awilda Rodriguez Lora, Cassils, M. Lamar, A.L. Steiner, boychild, Tina Takemoto, Evan Ifekoya, and E.G. Crichton. It considers their distinctive ways of presenting queer subjectivity through self-portraiture in new media. The essay examines how the exhibition rethinks the question of subjectivity and provides insights into new methods of expression, production, and distribution made available by new media that opens new ways of understanding its queerness. It focuses specifically on the use of experimental video as a time-based medium that reframes questions of identity as a dynamic unfolding of complex narratives held together by provisional queer, non-binary location, and meaning. The essay explores how the simultaneous projection of works on nine large screens creates a dynamic and immersive field of what the curator calls “selves in temporal flux.” This temporal field not only moves beyond the static nature of conventional self-portraiture, but also expands possibilities for creating complex networks of queer self-representations.
In the paper “Race for the Prize: The Proto-Selfie as Endurance Performance Art,” the author characterizes a small group of artists (including himself) working on time-lapse, self-portrait photographic projects as competitive— in a race with distinct formal, aesthetic, and technical categories. Set on the cusp of the millennial change from 20th to 21st century, these self-portrait works suggested practices and modes of new digital materiality that helped to birth the phenomenon called “the Selfie.” In the few decades before this Web 2.0 debut, the self-portrait was already evolving with electronic media. Neo-avant-garde performance artists and post-modern photographers were making identity-fluid works, self-portraits that were highly performative, prefiguring the coming practices of self-representation in digital networks. An important link, a reference to the passage of time, reinforce a familiar theme in art history—memento-mori, which is a reminder to the viewer that our time alive is fleeting. In this way, along with other threads, including first-hand accounts by the quartet of time-lapse self-portrait artists, we can derive the context and continuity that connects antecedents to descendant selfie practices, ubiquitous in contemporary culture.
This essay introduces webcam-based artworks by Ana Voog, Isaac Leung, Petra Cortright, Ann Hirsch, Kate Durbin and Molly Soda. It discusses common features of webcam art, artistic motives, the performance of online identities, interaction with the audience, oversharing and censorship, as well as the major shifts caused by the Web 2.0 and its eects on webcam art. Since the commercial launch of the webcam in 1994, users have been able to connect their real-life visual appearance to their online identity. Ana Voog broadcasted twenty-four hours a day live from home. Isaac Leung explored cyber sex, Ann Hirsch reflects on female online self-representation, and Kate Durbin performs as a cam girl on the video sex chat platform Cam4. Molly Soda engages with the expression of emotions. Petra Cortright checks out the default eects of her webcam and uploads the video to YouTube with misleading tags. Whereas early webcam artists explored the self-broadcasting of daily life activities, including nakedness and sex as a part of daily life, the next generation of webcam artists had a dierent approach. They used the webcam and the new possibilities of the Web 2.0 to explore dierent online platforms, their audiences, their social norms, and forms of self-presentation in the digital age.
The image-related self-thematization using digital communication technologies is a central cultural pattern of postmodern society. Considering these assumptions, this paper raises the question of whether, and in what way, practices of identity construction are changing, as part of the development of new digital and interactive media. The continuous change in media, society and technology in present visual cultures has led to the perception that images should be seen as an essential contribution to the formation of society and subjectivity. Along these lines, this submission analyses selfies as formats of communication and clarifies media-specific aspects of online communication. In this context, the paper focuses on the recurring features of selfies on the level of conventions of visual aesthetics, semantic encodings, media dispositives and stereotypical structures of interaction. With this perspective, it is possible to acquire a more detailed understanding of this relationship once it becomes clear in which way the visual practice and the aesthetics of photographic self-representation collaborate with the networking culture of social media.
New Selfie Precedents
“First Ever Selfie Cover!”: Cosmopolitan Magazine, Influencers, and the Mainstreaming of Selfie StyleThis paper oers a critical analysis of a single image: the recently published “first ever selfie cover” of Cosmopolitan magazine (the South African edition) published in March 2019. The image features three South African “influencers”, and was purportedly taken by the women themselves, using a remote shutter release attached to a cable. In examining the image that was included on the cover, I make an argument about both its aesthetics and politics. In terms of the former, I examine the production values and composition of the image and consider how it relates to selfie style as understood in scholarship so far. In terms of the latter, I consider the extent to which the naming of the image as a selfie intersects with claims made about the genre’s capacity to empower and reshape oppressive visual culture. I argue that this case study shows how the selfie has been appropriated into mainstream commercial visual culture. This case study is situated within relevant scholarship to do with the consumer magazine and selfies, before the image in question was introduced and contextualised. Finally, the chapter develops an analytical argument about the aesthetics and politics of the commercial appropriation of selfie imagery.
A close analysis of the Instagram feed of Black British, gender-non-conforming, trans-femme performance artist Travis Alabanza reveals their production of non-binary, trans-femme iconography via the social media platform Instagram as a timely and necessary intervention into contemporary culture. In self-imaging complex, expansive, and intersectional identity, Alabanza’s oeuvre not only produces new visual exemplars, but their oeuvre constitutes an imperative and complex representation that defies the stereotypes and erasures of such constituencies produced by dominant culture, while simultaneously challenging our previously held conceptions of photography and self-portraiture. To understand the nuances and interventions of Alabanza’s self-images, this chapter will model a trans-visual studies approach, in which methods of analysis are co-informed by the object of study. Alabanza’s work unfixes the photograph, breaking open the space between looking at a surface of a picture and the person referenced by the image. Simultaneously, Alabanza’s interest in surface is not superficial; the images seem to encourage us to view aesthetics as being about communicating, identity, play, performativity, and in discourse with numerous visualities and aesthetic languages, including gender, racialization, class, and subcultural affiliations.
Review by editor and external reviewers.
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