How many generations have been told to learn about themselves before they start mixing in the lives of others? How many times have we, and our forefathers, been told that we need to look inside our own hearts to find an answer to something which is bothering us, or to place ourselves in another person’s shoes?
Photo Source: Caroline R – Creative Commons
I ask these fairly simply questions, which I believe everyone can answer, in an effort to combat the continued condemnation of those who photograph themselves. Not that I am claiming shooting selfies is a way of finding your inner child, but it is definitely a method of looking at yourself, of seeing how other people see you, at least on the surface. What you see, they say, is what you get.
Photo Source: Ale Ale – Creative Commons
Although this is, of course, untrue. What you see on the surface is just that: a surface; an outer shell, not the core of a person, not their inner worth, their thoughts or emotions. True, the emotions can be shown in a person’s face, in their reactions, in their habits and outward beliefs, but it is not the person themselves.
Photo Source: Jamelah E – Creative Commons
Perhaps the art of taking self-portraits is simply one means of learning more about yourself, about beginning the journey inwards. If I can see what other people see of me, then I can begin to understand what I represent to them, how I come across to them and the reason why they react in a certain manner when I do or say something.
Photo Source: Mahnoorraja – Creative Commons
Self portraits are hardly something new: who hasn’t stood before van Gogh’s self-portrait and wondered about the artist himself? Who hasn’t asked themselves what it was that made him self-harm? Who, talking to someone they know, hasn’t wondered why their reaction to our words is not what we had expected, but influenced by what they see in our facial expression or body language?
Photo Source: Djuliet – Creative Commons
Of course, with the ease with which we can shoot these self portraits and upload them to the Internet, it is possible to say we are overdoing the self-exploration, or that it is really not search for the inner child simply because only the outer shell is shown. Is that a reason to condemn it, though? Just because we can produce these self portraits at a greater rate than van Gogh, because we can reach a far wider audience and that almost immediately?
And these self portraits are far more than just a narcissistic capturing of our outward appearance; they are memories of who we are and where we have been. The photographer no longer stands unseen behind the camera, but is a part of the whole. I was there, and this is me. They may not last as long as a van Gogh, but can say just as much about us as any masterpiece. And perhaps, one day, they will lead us on to considering our true feelings, our reactions in certain circumstances, our inner selves.
One thing is for certain: self portraits as selfies are here to stay, because everyone is fascinated by themselves, whether they like what they see or not.
- Viktoria Michaelis.