The news that Oxford Dictionaries named “selfie” the word of the year for 2013 came as no surprise to a lot of us. Smart phone photos of people (mostly young people, or at least the young at heart), taken at arm's length have become so ubiquitous that even Pope Francis has jumped aboard the selfie train. Clearly, he’s not called the People’s Pope for nothing.
Not to take anything away from the Pope or any other selfie-lovers out there, but there is an enormous difference between the selfie and the self-portrait. Whereas selfies are a recent phenomenon, self-portraits have been around forever (think of the painters Rembrandt, van Gogh - do the words 'severed ear' ring a bell? and Picasso, or the recently discovered portrait photographer Vivian Maier). Artists then and now have used the art of self-portraiture to practice and hone their technical skills and to channel some of their artistic self-expression. In my photographer’s mind, the most basic difference between the two is this: selfie = taken with a smart phone/little thought process, and self-portrait = usually taken with a real camera (ie. a point + shoot or a DSLR) with a more extensive thought process involved.
No matter how smart my iPhone is, I never would have been able to get this shot with it:
When I take a self-portrait, I always take into consideration elements such as light, composition, pose + angle, in addition to all of the technical geek stuff that has to do with the camera itself (aperture, ISO, shutter speed + focal point). Typically, my camera is set up on my tripod at some critical vantage point, and I am set up in an equally good spot with my trusty remote shutter at the ready.
In the past couple of years, I’ve taken hundreds (maybe thousands?) of self-portraits; some good, a lot bad. There are always a few in every bunch that are so bad that the only thing to do is laugh and try to do better next time. Case in point, to get the morbid looking self-portrait on the left (which I thought was a winner at the time), I had to sift through dozens of images, among them this one of me wanting to throttle my remote.
So now you know that self-portraiture is definitely not all fun and games, but the good news is that with practice it can get better. If you persist, you may find that it becomes a creative outlet that is both rewarding on a personal level as well as a technical one.
Here are some of my latest self-portraits, taken a couple of days ago. Following a client’s photo shoot, I asked the makeup artist to perform some of her magic on my tired face, and later that afternoon I spent a few minutes busting some silly moves in front of the camera.
I love these photos because of the way they portray me as being: fun-loving, vibrant and confident, with enough sass to take on the world. There’s no hint of the sleep-deprived, cranky and unkempt version of myself that I am on most days. According to me, photos like these are an added bonus when it comes to practicing the art of self-portraiture. My hope is that my children will be proud to own these photos of their maman one day when she's no longer able to bust a move.
When I showed the picture below to my husband, the first thing he said was “WOW”. The second thing he said was, “so, who took the picture?”
Now, that’s a silly question, I told him. It’s a selfie!