Okay so before I begin, can we all agree that we all take selfies? It’s 2019, so I am making this sweeping generalisation because if my mother, who has no care for social media, takes photos of herself, I’m certain that most of us do too.
There are so many articles out there talking about how terrible selfies are and I agree with the stance that intent behind taking the selfie matters. If you’re posting it out there in order to receive validation to make yourself feel better or you attach likes/retweets to your worth subconsciously, then I think it can have very detrimental effects on your psyche. However if you do it as a way to document, to celebrate, to embrace yourself…to tell your story, then why not? To be honest, how many of you have taken a snap of yourself on a day that you’re feeling yourself just for the sake of it? You’ve posted that one photo that you know you are laying down the law in…yes I can sense you nodding along in agreement and I think Warsan Shire said it best:
document the moments you feel most in love with yourself – what you’re wearing, who you’re around, what you’re doing. recreate and repeat
I think the first series of selfies that made me switch my vocabulary to call them self portraits were the ones I saw on Tumblr and Instagram by Amaal Said and Stephanie C. Nnamani.
clockwise: Stephanie C. Nnamani from (1 & 2) self-portrait project, A.T.L.A.S (2017-2018), (3) self-portrait, “Like The Sun” (2017)
I’ve always admired their work, which also includes their written work, Stephanie being an essayist and Amaal a poet.
“The photograph and the words arrive simultaneously. They guarantee each other. You believe the words more because the photograph verifies them, and trust the photograph because you trust the words. Additionally, each puts further pressure on the interpretation”Teju Cole
Like all art, their work, amongst others, have moved me to question my own reservations or beliefs. In this case, about how I tell my story and document myself and those around me. Yes I write and I’m as vulnerable as my conscious allows me to be, however I think there is a vulnerability that can be captured visually when one allows themselves to be seen, that no poetry or words can do justice too. I’ve taken photos for a long time, and street photography has always been my favourite since it reflects my people watching and observant tendencies. It’s never up close, never personal but it shows you the world through a different vantage point…my vantage point. So the question then becomes: how do you show yourself through your own eyes?
At the moment I am transitioning into portrait photography. There’s a lot of reading, studying and practicing it going on. This also includes more self portraits, which is something I have jumped into in the past. It’s a self-affirmation at its simplest and a reclamation and celebration of self at its most complex.
Personally, Tracee Ellis Ross is the epitome of all of this – just owning and claiming who you are. She just exudes a self-ownership and presence that I want when I grow up. One of my favourite images this year has been of her at the Met Gala, which she attended wearing a black Moschino dress and walked the carpet carrying a gold picture frame in front of her face. This is a nod to Lorraine O’Grady’s 1983 performance piece Art is… Lorraine O’Grady being a performance and conceptual artist that explores cultural constructs of identity through her photo and video installations.
In the Instagram caption of this photo, Tracee quoted her sister Rhonda Ross:
“#KnowYourValue Beauty is not in the eye of the beholder. Beauty is in the knowing of the beheld! It’s time to reclaim the narrative and put OURSELVES at the center of it. It’s time to archive our own images. Celebrate our own beauty. Honor it with a gilded frame.“
Our lives, as they are, are these long reels of film that are more inspiring than what any writer could even come close to capturing. And when we decide to step into a frame, we perform. In that moment we choose to exist in our agency and claim life – you choose what your story is and who you are presenting yourself as separate from the noise around you. So why not do that in all the different forms you naturally exist within? We’re all flawed, we carry shadows and we try to figure out our existence while interacting with other people who are also not sure about their existence. Woe is all of us, and out of the 7 billion plus people on this planet ain’t nobody that is more worthy to exist in all their God given life than the next person.
“In character as “Mlle Bourgeoise Noire,” a persona she (Lorraine O’Grady) had adopted, in the years prior, as a guise enabling her to crash art world events and draw attention to issues of racial underrepresentation, O’Grady and a troupe of 15 African-American and Latino performers, dressed all in white, walked around the float carrying empty gold picture frames. The empty frames were sometimes handed to onlookers, sometimes held in front of them, Vanna White-style, to encourage the mostly black audience to consider themselves as valid subjects, even makers, of art.” (x)
“For something to be beautiful it doesn’t have to be pretty”Rei Kawakubo, Founder of Comme des Garçons
I think the evolution from self-portraits made of oil paint hundreds of years ago to our 2 second smartphone snap still hold similar value to us…to know that we were here, that we exist. If the selfie is so basic and it serves no purpose, we wouldn’t all be doing it. There is something about it that gives us a sense of confidence. Whatever it does for you, I believe it’s important for everyone to document who they are. It doesn’t have to be for the world…SHOW YOURSELF HOW BEAUTIFUL YOU ARE!
You owe it to yourself to be the main character of your story, so instead of wasting away your days wrapped up in your insecurities, know that we are all a bit insecure, just like you know the day folds into the night and just go out there and be art.
“My recipe for life is not being afraid of myself, afraid of what I think or my opinions”Eartha Kitt