It wasn’t supposed to be such a big deal. Just three world leaders leaning in for a photograph. But when Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt took a “selfie” with US President Barack Obama and UK Prime Minister David Cameron at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service, the world was divided between those who jeered at such self-indulgence and those who cheered. But one thing was clear: the selfie had arrived.
In November, Oxford Dictionaries Online chose “selfie” as the Word of the Year and defined it as “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website”. And while 2013 might be the year of selfie, the concept has been around since the caveman sharpened some tools and laboriously scratched an image of himself on the walls of his habitat. Leonardo da Vinci did it, Rembrandt did it, Vincent Van Gogh (with and without a ear) too; Frida Kahlo’s self-portraits sometimes came in twos; and with his face turning around somewhat in surprise, Egon Schiele’s Self-Portrait with Raised Bare Shoulder in 1912 is posed almost exactly like a present-day selfie. “Artists, photographers have been creating self-portraits for many years. Selfie is just a new term that has been coined because photography has become more democratic,” says Pablo Bartholomew, photographer, whose self-portraits, raw and stark, act as entries from a personal diary that he has kept over the years. He doesn’t take selfies, though.
While its primary purpose is to inform people of the conspicuous consumption in one’s life, the selfie is no ordinary trumpet to blow. A little Facebook, Instagram stalking will reveal the very many ways you can shoot a selfie. There’s the selfie for dummies, the simple straight-up face shot. There’s the most famous type: the duckface. The idea is to pout in the picture but since not all of us were born with model good looks, it is more likely that we will resemble a duck and not Angelina Jolie. But there is hope for us yet, the “sparrow” selfie is the new duckface. Open your eyes wide and part your lips a wee bit for the picture. If you want to move away from the face, there is the body shot: this selfie can be taken at the gym, the beach, and in the dressing room (not the bathroom, bathroom selfies are the bane of