[-empyre-] empyre Digest, Vol 132, Issue 3

Jonathan Schroeder jesgla at rit.edu
Thu Dec 10 08:14:29 AEDT 2015

Thanks for this thoughtful post.  I recall when got a new iPhone it 'automatically' created a seflie folder in my photos. At first, I found this  profoundly disturbing, as it seemed to bring up so many negative aspects of digital technology, including facial recognition software,  social media algorithms, and surveillance. But on one level, I now have a rather convenient record of  my selfies - after all, I took them, and to a certain extent, I can delete at will, or remove the selfie folder. It is this aspect of the practice of selfies that Mehita Iqani are trying to write about. One aspect of the current interest in selfies is that as the term (if not the practice) is fairly recent, it feels like current research and writing  on selfies has the potential to theorize this social and cultural phenomenon as it is unfolding.
From: empyre-bounces at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au <empyre-bounces at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au> on behalf of Derek Murray <derekconradmurray6719 at gmail.com>
Sent: Wednesday, December 9, 2015 12:18 PM
To: soft_skinned_space
Subject: Re: [-empyre-] empyre Digest, Vol 132, Issue 3

----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
Greetings everyone! I’m going to jump in on this:

The analog issue that has been mentioned is very interesting. I
discussed it briefly in my writings on selfies. When I first became
interested in the subject, it was through many of my students who were
photography majors. The majority worked exclusively with film, and
were strict adherents to the medium. When I queried them about this
choice, I received a variety of responses, most of which expressed a
preference for the formal qualities of film: grainy aesthetic,
saturated colors, visual richness, etc. Others discussed the
importance of process: the mechanical “slowing down” of the act, the
inability to see the results immediately (which they romanticized).
Many described film as having a preciousness and tactile quality in
the medium that simply wasn’t present with digital. Others were more
direct, and expressed quite frankly that their interest in the medium
was driven by their photographic heroes such as: Nan Goldin, Anders
Petersen, Larry Clark, Nobuyoshi Araki, and Dash Snow (who became
famous for his gritty Polaroids).

The aesthetics of these now-notorious photographers has become the
standard for lifestyle photography and is quite popular in fashion as
well for their romanticizing of drug use, adolescent sexuality, and
the subcultural dimensions of urban street culture. It dominates
hipster circles, because it conveys a kind of counter-culture
rebellion, and a rejection of techo-capitalist value systems. In
regard to selfies specifically, film offers the ability to capture a
feeling of nostalgic intimacy, which for many provides a form of
resistance from the more fast-paced, consumer-driven demands heaped
upon them. But I would argue that the most salient dimension of this
choice is the desire to replicate the gritty, saturated realism and
intimacy of Araki, Goldin and Clark—who imaged the “outsider” with
grace, but also captured the sexual radicalism of their time: all of
which have been extremely influential on young women (and other
marginalized groups) who are endeavoring to express their resistance
through self-imaging. I am nevertheless skeptical of this trend;
especially the fetishizing of retro aesthetics, and the apparent
sentimentality and nostalgia that is voraciously performed. However, I
do find it both fascinating and inspiring that young people are
thinking visually, and that the relation between representation,
aesthetics, identity, subjectivity, and political activism, are at the
forefront of their self-imaging strategies.

In discussions about selfies, I think it’s important not to forget
that people take them, and that we should also not forget that many of
them are profoundly alienated, or subjected daily to misogyny, racism,
homophobia, transphobia—or simply harmed psychically by
misrepresentation, erasure, and invisibility. Perhaps the persistence
of these social/cultural/ideological degradations is the real terror.
As a disturbing techo-capitalist phenomenon, the selfie—as troubling
as it may be—is perhaps one of the only expressive means for the
consumer to validate themselves and to say to the world: “I exist, and
I have value!” This may sound like sentiment, but I think if we move
beyond judgment and really “look” at selfies (rather than discuss them
merely as a social and/or intellectual issue) we can see the very
human dimension that subtends this gesture.
empyre forum
empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au

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