The self-portrait has acquired somewhat of a bad rap these days. Momentary fake smile—snap! A quick review, then replicate forced smile, tilt head (tilt phone) and snap! Repeat until the perfect pose is captured, then pop the image up to Instagram and watch the likes flood in.
Back in the early days of the camera, photographers would take self-portraits to experiment with this new technology, demonstrate its potential and ultimately sell photographs. In a perfect marriage of the arts, pioneering snapper Alfred Stieglitz took a photograph of himself in 1907, waiting almost 25 years before printing it for his wife, painter Georgia O’Keeffe. A far cry from today’s instantaneous ability to post to social media, gain followers, sponsors and even additional income, all while riding the bus to work.
In the past year or two, I’ve been taking more selfies. This is nothing new, as once upon a time this was a good way for me to test a new camera or film type. However, the self-portraits made recently have been an attempt, of sorts, to understand myself as a person and to figure out who I’ve become, while travelling—at speed—through middle age.
As a younger man, I was under an illusion, believing to be a well-adjusted, happy individual. In the past few years, an acute awareness that this wasn’t entirely true began to surface. The process of posing for this photograph and comparing it to those made in my 20s, made me realise that it's only now that I have a greater understanding of what it means to be happy, or at the very least, content: rewarding work, a loving wife, somewhere to call home and of course, good coffee.
So, despite our current, often negative view of the selfie, perhaps we should all take a sneaky one now and again, pausing for a moment to look a little deeper (perhaps as did Stieglitz for O’Keeffe) and find meaning in who’ve we become for ourselves, moreover, those closest to us.