Self-Exploratorium — Or why I take selfies

Last night I had the rare opportunity of seeing the sun setting over Lake Michigan, in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood. Even though I live about 45 minutes from the city, and travel to Chicago 4 times a week, this was the first time I set so close to the lake in Chicagoland. Although to many it might seem as a banal and insignificant event — for me it was an important and moving experience.

I will not go into full foreclosure here, besides noting that it took me almost 4 years to start driving again, after a traumatic experience that has changed my life in 2009; and, as a result, moving to this area in June of 2010. In any event, going to places like Edgewater, on MY OWN, and taking a moment to ponder the importance of such occasion is, in my book, a remarkable accomplishment.

So I sit by the lake, it’s sunset, and I find it all deeply moving and beautiful. After a little while I pull out my iPhone 5, and begin shooting short bits of video — between 45 and 90 seconds in length. Removed one step from the scenery, I realize that I can observe the clouds even better via the cell phone screen than through a naked eyes. Comically, the clouds looked like Felix the Cat that was lying on his back, with his round head and triangular ears pointing southward. “It has been a long time since I’ve had the time to see the clouds,” I whisper to the camera, as I pan slowly along Felix’s imaginary, to the right. And then BOOM! Something amazing happens. A bright lightning strikes like a match through the blue enmeshment of clouds, lake, and sky, and — I get it on camera, candid and glorious!

I immediately check the footage. Yes! It has really happened. I have this on camera! And I know exactly what I’m going to do about it: I will trim it to a 15-second selfie, and post it on my Instagram.



Although some consider this phenomenon to be a form of narcissism, as does Esquire’s Stephen Marche, who refers to it as “the masturbation of self-image.” Yet others, coming from a socio-psychological angle, “read serious meaning into the selfie, seeing it as a positive mode of identity formation and an important way of presenting and reinforcing a personal image on the Web’s vast social stage.” (Keller, 2014)

It doesn’t really matter on which side of the digital fence you fancy yourself because the selfie, without a doubt, is huge! For starters, the Oxford Dictionary deemd selfie the word of the year 2013. In addition, more and more research is invested into analyzing the meaning and implication of this phenomenon. For instance, SelfieCity — a remarkable research initiative, led by Lev Manovich, a Professor of Computer Science, and the author of Software Takes Command — established to analyze two important questions: “How can history of photography help to better understand selfies phenomena? How can we approach theoretically social media images in general?” SelfieCitty’s remarkable research, based on examining selfies from 5 world capitols, surprisingly proves that “People take less selfies than often assumed.”


SelfieCity: Research and Analysis


For me, as an individual and a filmmaker, there are three main drives selie production and sharing:

(1)  I Selfie, Therefore I Exist:

In his Essay on the Theory of Painting (1715), Jonathan Richardson writes: “In Picture we never die, never decay, or grow older. Painting has another Advantage over Words, and that is, it Pours Ideas in our Minds, Words only Drop them, The whole Scene opens at one View, whereas the other way lifts up the curtain little by little.” (National Portrait Gallery).

Selfies allow me to document my personal history, and to anchor my view, experience, and even existence in a concrete point in time — compiling a personal narrative. (Baker & Bloustain, 2003)


(2) Immediacy, Creation, & Criticism:

As a filmmaker and visual artist, my interest is in production of visual images. Since I am my own subject — I can be available for myself as all times. Just like a self-portrait, a selfie then is “a way to experiment with pose and technique using a readily available model.” (Self-Portraiture, an Introduction)

And it is immediate! And time, as we all know, is such a precious commodity these days. On the other hand, it also increases the opportunities to exercise critical thinking and evaluation, which is an integral part of all creative process.


(3)A Virtually Social Animal:

Due to personal circumstances, my family and friends are located everywhere, but the U.S. So sharing my life online with people I care about is the optimal solution for me. Moreover, as shown in various researches, taking, publishing, and sharing selfies is a need to connect and belong to community. (Keller, 2014)


Although I am eons away from Dürer, who “is recognised by art historians as being the first artist to regularly paint self-portraits,” the regular practice of documenting my physical self, as well as my mood and experience in multiple points in time, satisfies significant socio-psychological and artistic needs.


And what about you? Do you selfie too?




Keller, J. K. (2014, April 7). What do your selfies say about you? | Al Jazeera

America. What do your selfies say about you? | Al Jazeera America. Retrieved June 17, 2014, from


Self image: making a self-portrait (3) | National Portrait Gallery. Retrieved June 17, 2014, from


Baker, S., & Bloustien, G. (2003). On Not Talking to Strangers: Researching the

Micro Worlds of Girls through Visual Auto-ethnographic Practices. Retrieved June 17, 2014, from


 Self-Portreture — An Introduction. (n.d.). The Learning Hub. Retrieved June 17, 2014,




3 thoughts on “Self-Exploratorium — Or why I take selfies

  1. Great history here about the selfie, Nadia. Honestly, for a long time, I was not a fan of the word “selfie,” which negatively effected the way I viewed them. Then after our Intro to Digital Comm class last semester, I got over my anti-selfie sentiment and began to understand that a selfie is more than just a photo of yourself for use on Facebook and can be used in many different ares when it comes to building a digital brand or digital storytelling.


  2. I think that the negative reaction to selfies is actually very comical. People will say that those who take selfies are narcissists and a reflection of everything that is wrong with social media and the internet, but that is being pretty dramatic. Van Gogh, Warhol and Frieda Kahlo are just a few artists who painted themselves in an effort to both discover and reveal who they were as humans. Society survived. The paintbrush has just taken a different form.


  3. I do no take selfies, but I do not think that are wrong or good . I just do not share the trend of sharing everything that happen in my personal life on social media. I still strongly divide the private area from the public area of my life and I think that this conceptual boundary is lost in a lot of people nowadays.


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