Category Archives: Selfie

Me in the Mirror

Who sees the human face correctly: the photographer or the mirror?’ Picasso

I love this quote. It gets at something paradoxical about mirrors. I got thinking about mirrors for two reasons: first, I’m currently reading Jorge Luis Borges’ Labryrinths, a collection of his short stories that deal with time, identity and imagination. Borges was intrigued by mirrors, finding them “monstrous,” shot through with deep philosophical paradoxes; second, given I’m pretty much confined to the house these days, I’ve been going through my photo archives and trying to put some order to all the chaos, and I’m uncovering lots of photos of me in the mirror. Mind you, most of them were taken when I was young, long before the selfie was a thing. At the time they were just throwaways, last exposures on a roll that needed to be developed. Now they’re the keepers. Funny what time does. I’m glad I had the foresight to take them, and thankful that photography gave me the means to do so.

I was 17 when I took that picture. I still have a vague remembrance of doing it. (The fact of the memory says something about a continuity between that 17 year old and me.) Some young lady had written something in lipstick on the mirror and I thought to preserve it with a photo. I ended up getting the photo above, which to me is much more interesting than what was written by someone long forgotten. Apparently, that’s ‘me’, although I feel at most a tenuous connection to the person shown. What that connection is I’m not sure. Is that really me? I do remember the camera – a beat up black paint Nikon F body with a scruffed up chrome FTN Photomic prism, my first ‘real’ camera. I remember being so proud of it, as if it had some magical power to produce better photographs than the consumer grade cameras my parents had heretofore given me. Ironically, it probably did allow me better photos by giving me a confidence in a vision that was capable of being revealed by such a sophisticated instrument.

I love the serendipity of the picture too, the off-kilter framing with the window and curtains hinting at something other than a mere reflection of who I was. That 17 year old kid, learning about what made a compelling photo, I’m sure would have passed this one up when reviewing its contact sheet, everything about it being wrong from what Popular Photography told me made a good photo. Now, I find it a really compelling photo, which should tell me something about the relationship of that person and the person I’m now.

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Digital Photography is Making People Crazy

Does This Selfie Make Me Look Fat?

If technology is a drug – and it does feel like a drug – then what, precisely, are the side effects? This area – between delight and discomfort – is where the ‘black mirror’ is – the one you’ll find on every wall, on every desk, in the palm of every hand: the cold, shiny screen of a television, a monitor, a smartphone. 

-Charlie Brooker, creator of Black Mirror***

File this under the heading of “The Law of Unintended Consequences of Our Brave New World:” Snapchat selfies are making a lot of people crazy.

In an article  in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Neelam Vashi, Assistant Professor of Dermatology at Boston University and Assistant Director of the Boston University Cosmetic & Laser Center, describes a digital photography side-effect he’s seeing more of recently – kids and young adults with “body dysmorphia” as a result of using Snapchat filters and editing software when they take pictures of themselves. Vashi says the pervasiveness of these filtered images is screwing with kids’ self esteem and “may even act as a trigger to body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), an excessive preoccupation with a perceived flaw in appearance, classified on the obsessive-compulsive spectrum.”

In an interview posted to the JAMA Network website, Vashi explained: “Photo editing can make one’s face more symmetrical, have more of these features that are considered beautiful like big eyes or a small nose. Now people are bringing in photos of themselves that are filtered, that are edited, and this can often impact them in a negative way because (cosmetic surgery) patients can have unrealistic expectations of what can be achieved through cosmetic procedures and surgery.”

“I try to educate my patients,” says Vashi, “but at the end of the day, what I’ve personally found is they want the look they’re showing you in the photographs, and not the one we’re taking with standard photography.”

Welcome to the dystopian future, brought to you courtesy of digitization.


On a related note, Wim Wenders thinks that photography is dead.

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The Leica “Selfie”

kubrickStanley Kubrick 1954

I have a face, but a face is not what I am. Behind it lies a mind, which you do not see but which looks out on you. This face, which you see but I do not, is a medium I own to express something of what I am.  Julian Bell

Everybody these days knows what a ‘selfie’ is: a selfie (/ˈselfiː/) is a self-portrait photograph, typically taken with a digital camera or camera phone held in the hand, then often shared on social networks. It’s meant to be flattering and made to appear casual, although it usually is neither. Most selfies are taken with the camera held at arm’s length or pointed at a mirror, rather than by the traditional means of a self-timer. The camera used is irrelevant. The point is the person photographing themselves, the selfie itself the medium used, in the words of Julian Bell above, “to express something of what I am.” “Look at me,” the selfie says; “check out how 1) beautiful, 2) cool, 3) well-built, 4) pretty, 5) sexy 6) happy, 7) rich [or some variation thereof], I am.”

Leica selfie


I’m intrigued by the phenomenon now known as The Leica Selfie. You see a few of them here, all fairly typical of the genre. The Leica Selfie has been around long before the concept of a selfie existed. That’s because The Leica Selfie is different: the camera must be in the picture in a Leica Selfie. It is an integral part of the selfie, actually the purpose of the selfie. The viewer is not looking at a face, but a camera in front of a face. To show the camera is at least as important as showing the person using it, the face important only to the extent that it identifies this person as using a Leica. The Leica is part of the mask; actually the Leica is the mask, placing the photographer in a historical tradition of use.

There are flikr groups of Leica selfies and Leica women selfies. You don’t find this with other cameras. There are no “Sony NEX Selfies” groups. Why?

Sunny 16 2


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Allen Ginsberg’s Leica Selfie

I didn’t know much of Allen Ginsberg before reading Bill Morgan’s excellent 2008 biography I Celebrate Myself.  Ginsberg seemed at best a minor talent in a discipline I knew little about, at worst a mentally ill crank. But Morgan’s book drew me in deeper and deeper, and I soon saw the genius of Ginsberg, a genius manifested in both his art and his life, which I assume Ginsberg would say were one and the same. Ginsberg’s humanity shines through in Morgan’s work – generosity, kindness, creativity, eccentricity, but mostly a dedication to live fully and richly without excuse. In this age of greedy hucksters passing as ‘artists’, Ginsberg was the real deal. A fascinating human being in the best sense of the word.

So I was particularly interested when The National Gallery of Art published Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg. From the late 40’s through the early 60’s, Ginsberg made many photographs of his Beat friends – Kerouac, William Burroughs, Neal Cassady, Gregory Corso – and did so with a great photographic eye and an uncanny sense of the importance of everyday events, what he referred to as “certain moments in eternity.” The photographs were meant for his private use, “keepsakes” with no further value than as personal documents of private moments.

Ginsberg Selfie 1

Apparently Ginsberg put down his camera in 1963 and didn’t routinely pick it up again til the 1980’s, when, with the help of his friend Robert Frank, he edited and printed a series for exhibition at the Holly Solomon Gallery in New York. Adding extensive handwritten inscription on each exhibition print, the series is quotidian documentary photography at its best – immediate, warm, human, casual, funny, sad – and always visually arresting in its lack of artifice.

Ginsberg, ever humble, questioned the importance of his photographs and deferred questions about this aspect of his creativity by agreeing with Robert Frank’s assertion that “photography was an art for lazy people.” And it can be. But the best photography, work like Ginsberg’s, transcends the simplicity of its making and gives us something new to see, something that is more than the sum of what it represents.

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