A Short History of Selfies by Ole Siebrecht
Everyone knows them, everyone takes them: selfies became normality, they belong to our daily life. Just pull out your smartphone, strike a pose, push the button, choose a filter and off it goes right into the world wide web. Within a short time, the selfie was on everyone’s lips and phones – Kim Kardashian, Miley Cyrus or James Franco are good examples for popular selfie-gods in the Olympus of self-portrayal.
Kim may have broken the internet in 2014, but one year later she released her book with the suitable name ‘Selfish’: an illustrated book which solely shows selfies of the Kardashian-beauty. So far, so normal. But let’s have a closer look at the selfie in general: what does the name really mean? When was the first selfie ever taken? Why do we even take selfies? And how do I create the best selfies?
To approach this phenomenon, we should take a look at the Oxford Dictionary. There it says a selfie is ‘a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media.’ But does this mean selfies only exist since the age of social media? A polemical question – art historians might insist on a difference between self-portraits and selfies, but let us not take this topic with a pinch of salt.
Human beings always seem to be attracted by their own physical appearance, which is what selfies basically show. Already in Greek mythology beautiful Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection which he saw in the water of a lake. The Romans and Egyptians knew how to produce hand mirrors, and even the Bible mentions them. Until this point, we’re only talking about a mirror image, a nonpermanent, sketchy impression because photography as we know it didn’t exist at that time. But what did exist was the art of painting: In the 1600s Dutch artist Rembrandt van Rijn created more than 90 self-portraits, and artists such as Vincent van Gogh and Frida Kahlo followed him. They all demonstrated their self-perception on canvas and made them last for the ensuing ages. Nobody called it selfie at that time, that’s for sure, but from our perspective, it doesn’t seem to be too fallacious, right?
Now let’s go forth in time to the year 1826. In the very same year Frenchmen Joseph Nicéphore Niepce took the first constant photo ever. It only shows the view from his desk, but it was the first step. Selfies wouldn’t have been possible at that time because you would have needed to stay still for about eight hours. In the following years, Niepce’s business partner Louis Daguerre developed the technique further and accomplished an exposure time which was markedly shorter. So some years later, in 1839, the probable first portrait photography ever was taken: a guy from America called Robert Cornelius took a picture of … himself. Hence the world’s first photographic image was a selfie. Although it was still a long way to become Oxford Dictionary’s ‘Word of the Year 2013,‘ a basis for the selfie was created.
People were developing the technique of photography and from 1965 the rank and file could use polaroid cameras to take instant photos. Some decades later, in the 90’s and 00’s, digital cameras conquered the electronic market and became affordable to everyone. One of their biggest advantages over analog cameras was the possibility to delete the pictures which you didn’t like: you weren’t limited to 36 pictures per film anymore. Well-known mobile phone companies took advantage of this– nowadays you probably won’t find any smartphone without a front camera, which is the selfie tool par excellence!
But do you still remember that tiny plastic mirror right next to your clamshell phone’s camera? Now you know it wasn’t only there to check your hair or lipstick.
But why do we take selfies? Some sharp tongues might answer this question with ‘Pure narcissism’ or ‘Sheer vanity.’ But really, what’s wrong with loving yourself? In times where topics such as body positivity or body shaming are finally discussed in our society, we shouldn’t be ashamed of taking selfies. We all know that fishing for compliments is also an important aspect of our selfie-game: we are looking for attention, recognition and confirmation in the anonymity of internet – likes mean honey for the soul and somehow count as a digital currency. Certainly, this isn’t always a good thing, but if you take a selfie and like what you see: why the hell shouldn’t you post it?
Furthermore, we’re creating consistent and permanent memories with the help of selfies. We burn them on our smartphone’s storage and create evidence: I have been there! I have done that!
We can put ourselves into a special context: a context of a specific place at a specific time. Why should I take a photo of Disneyland’s parade when I can have a selfie with Mickey and Donald? Everyone is able to take those boring parade picture, but only I can take this selfie – it’s unique.
So the next time other people start rolling their eyes when you pull out your smartphone: don’t let them daunt you! At this moment the hashtag #selfie shows 273.170.962 results on Instagram – and it’s getting more every second.
The way to create your perfect selfie is individual, of course: every person has their very own and personal tips and tricks. But who if not Kim Kardashian could give us some advice? She revealed her three golden rules to E! Entertainment:
- You need good lighting. Obviously.
- Always take your selfie from above, angling down. I think there’s nothing worse than when someone wants to take a selfie and they take it from the angle down below, you know, and get some double chin action.
- Know your own angles. Know what your best angle is and go with that.
Now that we’ve taught you about selfies, why don’t you try to film your own sales video and post it on YEAY? It’s as easy as taking a selfie – we know you can do it! Shoot a video, upload it on the YEAY app and watch the cash roll on. You could use your earning to buy a new phone with a better selfie camera …