Perhaps no contemporary image is
simultaneously more common, celebrated, and reviled than the selfie.
The self-portrait taking at arm’s length or in a bathroom mirror is now
among the most commonplace image on a host of sites like Instagram, tumblr, and
snapchat, and Presidents and Popes have joined the universe of celebrities and
our neighbors who are commemorating their everyday lives, celebrating their
bodies, or striking pensive gazes. Of
course what this actually means about
us individually and socially is contested: Some
observers suggest selfies are a confirmation of shallow youthful vanity, if not
for help”; others lament that selfies are yet another exercise in
narcissism; others more soberly see it as a perpetual reflection of our
collective interest in appearance; some divine women’s objectification in an
effort to secure bodily
and social visibility; and for some the selfie is a genuine display of
self-empowerment controlling how we imagine ourselves to be seen and appear.
This exercise examines some of the
meanings of particular collections of selfies.
You will examine a series of digital selfies and prepare a written
analysis of that particular type of selfie and examine what you think such
selfies are communicating. Some of
them are focused on a particular theme, like #nomakeupselfies;
others focus on some dimension of everyday life, like football
selfies; and some are focused on a place (e.g., Museum
selfies). Some of the examples for this exercise are twitter groups or
tags; others are facebook pages; a few are tumblr groups; and some are instagram
In general, a selfie is defined by its
visual expression of self-awareness on the part of a photographer who is
themselves a subject. But the genre
has myriad complexities beyond that fundamental framing:
some selfies capture “moments” that are consequential for a whole
range of reasons (e.g., good hair days, family events, etc); nearly all are
meant to be “shared” in some way digitally and instantly (or nearly
instantly); and they tend to focus on our personality as it is somehow expressed
in our corporeality.
I require you review one of the following web
pages, tags, or user groups below and analyze the collection based on the
questions below. You must include a
close examination of at least three examples of individual selfies.
You must include links or printed images of your three example selfies in
the paper’s appendix (a PDF of the image is fine). I
will return the paper if the link is dead or you do not provide me a copy of the
images. You are welcome to refer to
other examples beyond those three pictures, of course, but please examine three
in a fair amount of systematic detail to illustrate what you think are patterns
in this particular set of selfies, if not in the genre at large.
Your analysis should describe the selfies collection.
For instance, specifically what sorts of visuals are represented and
what is the range of selfie images included in the collection?; how many are
What specific dimensions of the images make them selfies?
That could include angle of the image, background composition,
expression, who is in the shot, the degree to which the image appears
“staged,” and various other concrete dimensions of images that we now
seem to understand as defining a selfie.
Who do you suppose is the photographer’s “audience”?
That might include themselves, friends, or an anonymous internet, or
there may be no especially clear evidence that the images are for especially
public consumption at all.
Do the selfies you analyzed tell a story in some way?
If so, what is that story, and how did you interpret the selfies’
Regardless of the photographer’s intentions, we are now an
audience, so what do these images and specific examples symbolize to you?
Specifically what features of the images do you think provide
aesthetic indications of who these people are or what meanings they are
intending to convey?
What does the text and tags accompanying the images tell us
about the meanings the photographer intends to convey?
Do you think your selfies suggest the photographer was
“empowered” in some way? If
so, how might they have seen themselves in a more positive way, and why do
you think these images created such an empowerment?
Alternatively, do you think specific selfies in your analysis
appear to be examples of self-involvement and narcissism?
If so, specifically how did you reach that conclusion based on these
The paper is due November 11th. Most written papers will be at least five pages long.
For those who have never been online
before, some of the digital celebration of beauty and bodies goes overboard and
includes images we may not be personally interested in sharing.
I have done my very best to not link to any material that is not safe for
work, but please ignore a page if it includes material that is unpleasant or
If you wish to analyze another
collection of selfies please approve it with me beforehand.
Absolutely no naughty selfies are acceptable subjects of analysis.
Shelter Selfies (facebook group)
tag via iconosquare)
Selfie (twitter tag)
Selfies (facebook group)
selfies (twitter user)
(a tumblr that went dormant last December)
Your Belly Out (Crohns and Colitis awareness twitter tag)
Selfie (twitter tag)
Instagram (perhaps the world’s most famous celebrity Instagram)
Fails (facebook group)
(Instagram tag via iconosquare)
For some background on selfies, visit
the Selfiecity database on global selfie
patterns, which includes several scholarly
papers. Katie Warfield’s Making
Selfies/Making Self page is a thoughtful, firm, and sympathetic analysis
focused on young women’s experience of selfies. The
is a thorough and scholarly facebook group on selfies research that links to
lots of selfies publications in the popular press and scholarship alike.
Among recent scholarly work, I recommend Fatima Aziz’s Visual
Transactions: Facebook, an Online Resource for Dating; Analyzing
Selfies; Daniel Miller’s Know
Thy Selfie blog post; or even my thoughts on heritage
Last updated July 28, 2014
Selfie at the Lincoln Memorial image from Joe Flood