The Hazards of Selfies

yours truly - an outtake from 365/326 by justTphotography
yours truly – an outtake from 365/326
This one was reported by a reliable source to be more like “me” than the final 365/326.

It didn’t occur to me when I first started shooting artistically that I was bearing my soul. Oh dear, have I revealed too much? But boy did it became clear shortly after the first phone call from mom questioning if I’d lost my mind. She’d stumbled onto some of my first 365 photos. I stammered to explain my intent and that those weren’t really pictures of me but of a character, a thought, a scene where I just happened to be the model. But she still just saw me, as others who know me have similarly expressed when seeing some of my shots. I guess at some time or another all artists face it: you are what you shoot, paint, sculpt, draw, construct…at least to everyone looking in.

What’s particularly tricky about this assumption in photography is the craft’s duplicitous nature. Photography can be “just the facts, ma’am,” a recording of events and truths. But then there’s its creative side, where photographers take pictures with the intent of conveying some emotion or idea via a concoction of places, situations, light, and often people, that would otherwise mean nothing to the viewer. For example, were I to take a picture of you blowing out your 40th birthday candles, that’s recording. Alternatively, were I to take a picture of you stomping on your 40th birthday cake in high heels, that’s conveying an emotion/idea, however you choose to read it. But what if you weren’t really turning 40, and it wasn’t really your birthday, and I took a picture of you stomping on that cake anyway? Your friends are likely to see it and think any number of things: “dang, I didn’t think she was 40 yet; thank god she’s older than I am” or “look at those hussy heels; I can’t believe she’d wear those!” or “she didn’t even invite me to her party (sniffle).” It’s a staged event to convey a message, for whatever reason, but what’s being photographed a) isn’t a true event outside of its staging and b) isn’t really about you, but just the message you’re trying to convey. All the same, it seems real, a part of you and who you are. Lord, now your friends think you’re 40! (You’re welcome, or I’m sorry.)

To further complicate the matter, what if *you* took the picture of *yourself* stomping on the cake, creating one of those abhorrent “selfies,” meticulously setting everything up and snapping the shutter till you get just the shot you want? Great. Now, not only have you created the above ruckus, but you’re crazy/depressed/weird to boot, because why else would you create such a picture of yourself? THIS is the hazard of selfies, artistic intent or no: everyone, particularly those close to you who may not understand what you’re doing, thinks it’s YOU! Bah! But what if I’m just wanting to hone my craft and don’t want to work with models? You. But I was just using myself (a very accessible and agreeable model) to try out lighting? Still you. But I just wanted to see how people would react to the concept? Still the same old crazy, cray cray you.

Crap; what’s a burdened, rising artist with limited resources to do? Well, you can fight it, which is pointless, because, come on, secretly you know (and believe) that “all art is autobiographical.” Or you can embrace it, use it to fuel your forward progress, annnnd maybe start researching your options of working with models. Either way, you’re still putting your soul out there. And really, isn’t that what art is all about? Those who understand your plight will hopefully recognize you in the midst.

So go ahead. Unleash your Sherman; embrace your inner Picasso or Kahlo. Trudge ever forward with your lovely, crazy ideas. You know you have ‘em. And, you know we’ll be armchair psychoanalyzing you. But where’s the fun in hiding? Besides, isn’t artistic interpretation just as much about the viewer than the artist? ;-)

May 2014 be full of soul-bearing creativity. Happy New Year!

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11 thoughts on “The Hazards of Selfies

  1. This is a really thought provoking post and very timely for me because I need to shoot a few self-portraits before the end of the month.

    Definitely gonna think a bit more before I shoot… and potentially be a bit more adventurous than I originally planned (or maybe not).

    Super post, and Happy New Year!

    • Thanks Rob! I’ll be keeping an eye on Soul Side for those self portraits. My 2 cents? Adventurous all the way with a few tame ones thrown in the mix. No harm in having both. And it’s always the adventurous ones that make our creative souls happy. ;-)

  2. Hey T,

    Thanks for such a thought-provoking post. One of the greatest parts of your 365 project was the words that accompanied the photos. MAS!!

  3. Well said, Tennille! And as someone who is sadly very nearly 40, I will happily stomp on a cake for you, if you want an agreeable model other than yourself!

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