Every day, the same thing happens to me. I sit down at my computer, open up Facebook to catch up with friends and the rest of the world, and I begin to scroll through the latest updates.
“Oh, my friend made a yummy looking cake!”
“Aww – my old school friend got engaged!”
“Wow – That looks like an amazing place to be having a holiday!”
And then … “OH..um…What’s going on there?!”
Every day I get stopped in my tracks by one of ‘those’ photos, and If you’re anything like me – you might just too!
You know the photos – HUGE boob cleavage with the camera pointing right down from above to get a proper full on, in your face, view. Bright red lips pouting so hard you start to question if they may have been trapped in a vice overnight. Peace signs flung up all over the place, making you wonder if Winston Churchill was ready to take full responsibility for the ridiculousness of this pose! Men lifting their shirts just ever-so-slightly to reveal that they might…just MIGHT have a nice six pack ,and women with eye make-up SO bloody heavy that you question how long the subject can keep their eyes open before they get forced shut by the sheer weight of eyeliner, false eyelashes and mascara.
I stop to look at these photos and initially, I am ridiculously irritated by them! “Why do people do it?” I scream at my computer, “They are NOT a model!”, “That face is ANNOYING!” I am not ashamed to admit that when I see pictures of people like this, for a split second I hate cameras for being invented- and that is saying something coming from some one who has dedicated her life to being behind one! However, the irritation quickly disappears and I’m left thinking that there must be some reason for the person is taking this image. A story behind the idea – as with any image ever captured.
When I came up with the idea to write a blog post about annoying photo poses and faces, I thought that I had better check my own past Facebook photos to make sure I was squeaky clean and free from annoying-face-pulling images. Guess what – I am most definitely NOT! I then scrolled through my camera roll on my phone to find SEVEN ’selfies’ in the past two weeks!
(Urban Dictionary definition of a ‘Selfie’ is : A picture taken of yourself that is planned to be uploaded to Facebook, Myspace or any other sort of social networking website. You can usually see the person’s arm holding out the camera, in which case you can clearly tell that this person does not have any friends to take pictures of them so they resort to Myspace to find internet friends and post pictures of themselves, taken by themselves. A selfie is usually accompanied by a kissy face or the individual looking in a direction that is not towards the camera.)
…WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH ME!? Am I one of those annoying people?
The contents of my iPhone camera roll reveal such gems as:
- “I have new hair” self
- “I’m wearing a hat” selfie
- “I’m holding a paintbrush” self
- “I’m supporting mo-vember” selfie (x 12)
- “Look at my face – it’s such a mess” selfie
- “Me and Dave eating an ice cream” selfie
- “I had a car crash and got seat belt burn” selfie
- “I’m a total idiot” selfie
The list is long, so very long!
So, my question is – WHY do we selfie? Why do we pull those faces? Why do we stand in that way? Why do we frame it ‘just so’. Well, I did a bit of digging, and here’s some of what I found.
The ‘Duck Face’
The exact origin of the duck face isn’t clear. There seems to be many suggestions as to who did it first, including the wonderful work of Ben Stiller in the film ‘Zoolander’ – but one thing is certain – The ‘Duck Face’ is a facial pose designed to enhance the appearance of the lips, causing the subject to look more sexy and seductive. It has become such a familiar pose that today, people pull this face without even realising it as soon as they see a camera! Everyone is guilty of having a photo taken of them in this pose. You may think you were just blowing a kiss – the internet now calls that ‘Duck Face’. Sorry.
The High Angle
We all know that the angle of the camera can have a dramatic influence on how we perceive the subject. Shoot from below and your subject seems powerful and dominant; Shoot from above and your subject seems vulnerable and powerless. For women in particular this could be one reason for wanting to photograph yourself in this way: By creating a self portrait where you appear vulnerable, you open yourself up to people wanting to care and look after you.
There is suggestion that the high angle used in the ‘MySpace Photo’ pose is significantly comparable and representational of the view that a male may have on a female when she is say, tying his shoe lace for him, but as my Parents, and potentially my Grandparents, as well as young children may be reading this – I think I better leave that one for you to figure out…
The Mirror Selfie
The Mirror Selfie was, in my opinion, a very practical way around being able to take a photo of yourself AND get the framing you want AND get your pose perfect, before the invention of forward facing cameras on phones.
I read a really interesting article by Christine Erickson on ‘The Social Psychology of the Selfie’. In the article, Christine suggests that the self portrait is not necessarily a vain or narcissistic venture, but suggests that ‘Selfies’ are actually quite important to our self-image.
“It’s how we define ourselves, and present for others to see. We rely on others’ perceptions, judgments and appraisals to develop our social self.”
I couldn’t agree more! Self Portraits can be massively annoying and irritating, but if you think about it, they really are a huge part of our social networking skills. If you want a presence on social media networks like Facebook or Twitter, you are actively encouraged to put an image up as your profile picture. Some would chose to use that awesome photo of them passed-out drunk on the pavement, but most people opt to have a photo of themselves that they like, that they think portrays them at their best and as most people don’t have access to pro-photographers, we choose to spend some time with our forward facing cameras (or our mirrors!), getting the image of ourselves right.
You would probably judge a person if you met them face to face, consciously or subconsciously, and it may even be obvious to them if you did or didn’t like the way they looked. They would pick up on your body language, the way you talk to them etc. If the same person uploaded a self portrait, which they have mentally signed off in their own head as an acceptable portrayal of themselves, then you can judge them from a distance without them even knowing what you truly think, but remember….if they’ve had the balls to take a photo of themselves, and think that the image is good enough to publish to a site where the whole world can see it, chances are they are proud enough and strong enough to not give a shit about what you think.
And of course ‘Selfies’ don’t just have to be people posing semi-naked in a mirror, pulling the pouty face, or flinging up a Peace sign. A picture says a thousand words, and therefore a self portrait can say just as much about a person.
Some of my early photography during school was based on the work of Cindy Sherman, one of the best Self Portrait photographers of our time.
Images by Cindy Sherman
For health reasons I was not able to attend many of my A level studio sessions for my portraiture module, so I missed out on taking photos of other people. Inspired by Sherman’s work, and not wanting to fall behind in the module, I decided that instead of doing studio sessions like everyone else, I would take self portraits whilst stuck at home. It was so much fun messing around with costume, poses and styles, without the pressure of someone watching me. All inhibitions went out the window, I was free to pull faces and poses that I would never dream of doing in front of other people! The result was a series of photos that show the ‘real’ me. Yes, I was disguised by costumes and make-up for most of them, but underneath all that, I knew the story and personal meaning behind each and every one of those photos.
A few of my A level pieces. Apologies for the poor image quality, I was still learning how to use a camera (and the originals are missing).
When we had our final year exhibition and a chance to display all our work, I received some ‘school yard’, narky comments and criticism, claiming that I was ‘vain’ and too ‘up-myself’ but, quite frankly, I didn’t care! I was proud of the images I created, the issues I explored and, most of all, the fact that despite missing a huge chunk of school, I still came out with the highest grade and was given an award for my work.
I think it was from this moment that I have always taken photos of myself. I honestly think it’s a really valuable exercise to force yourself to sit down and take an entire series of self-portraits that you feel explain who you are. You will be surprised how much you can get across about yourself in one image if you just put a bit of thought into it. Just look at the feature image of this blog. I put a call out asking for people to offer up their self portraits to help make up the montage image, and not one that I got back irritated or angered me, in fact I fell in love with each and every one. Each image had thought and meaning behind it, a story behind the moment that they decided to capture. Each unique and special in its own way.
So, for me I feel it’s time for a change! The next time I come across a gaudy looking ‘selfie’ and find my blood starting to boil, I’m going to stop myself and think, “There’s a story behind her pout”, “There’s a reason he’s showing us his abs”, “She’s wearing hardly any clothes for a good reason”. You don’t always know the history behind the person you are looking at. Maybe they had an awful time being bullied about their weight as a kid, and are now proud enough to show it off. Maybe they’ve always wanted to be a model, and who am I to criticize their dreams? If I had a killer body that I had worked bloody hard to maintain, I would be showing the world too! For exactly the same reason that I will always show you a picture of my new haircut, an awesome new hat, a picture of me and my husband having an awesome time eating ice cream, or a picture of me with messed up hair or a black eye!
I am who I am, I look the way I do and I take pictures of myself doing things I love. There are, of course, certain things I don’t want you to see, but I’m in control of that. I think I will always take and post photos of myself, taken by myself, not because I’m vain (I’m a woman – so am naturally not happy with the way I look 100% of the time) but because one day I will look back and have an entire photographic documentary of my life and that’s pretty damn cool!
I do ‘selfie’, I will probably always ‘selfie’ and, to be honest… I really don’t care what anyone else thinks about it ;)
Many thanks to those who contributed their self portraits for the feature image:
Joakim Wijk - @JoakimWijk
Jenny Manby – @jennymanby
Guillermo Alonso – @Guich
Phil Arntz – @philarntz
Kate Hollowood – @k8hollowood
Sian Deasy – @siandeasy
Mark Ruddick – @Mark_Ruddick
Andi Ramsey - @DevelopingPhoto
Corinne Loynes – @cozloynes
John Mangino – @johnmangino
Alan Mandel – @alan_mandel
Bridgette Pacholka – @BridgetteInMI
David M Reynolds – @DavidMReynolds
Ashley Duckerin – @AshleyDuckerin
Owen Benson – @obenson
Kylee Kotyk – @KyleesHair