News Column

The Rise of the Selfie

June 10, 2014

Kagweni Micheni

Although the popularity of the selfie has been accelerated by the growth of social media sites, self-portraits go back much further than the invention of the Internet or even the camera

It starts with a smartphone. Any smartphones will do, all you need is a camera, preferably front facing. Raise the phone to that point just above your eye line, tilt it slightly, approximately 45 degrees should do. Now pose. Pout those lips, flip the hair, look coyly into the camera or look into the distance at some imagined object. Pick your smile, do you want to be flirty? Or maybe cute. You could bite your lip, or just a little turn at the edge of your mouth giving a hint of a Mona-lisa-esque smile. Once you've perfected it, you press the button add a filter and voilÀ, you have the selfie.

This phenomenon has taken over social media with the tag #selfie providing a never ending wave of photos that constantly flood our twitter, facebook and instagram feeds. What was once seen as a self obsessed narcissistic practice is not not only widely accepted but expected.

With published tips of how to create the perfect selfie, the list of things you should do to make sure that you will end up looking your best means there is never an excuse for uploading a bad selfie. You are told to look for natural light. The best times are during that small window just after sunrise or just before sunset. If there is no natural light, stand by a source of artificial light and make sure the flash is off. Find your good side- positioning the camera slightly above your eye line tends to be the most flattering, also angle your face or body to one side to add some depth to the picture.

John Paul Titlow, a writer based in Philadelphia, described the selfie sharing movement as "a high school popularity contest on digital steroids." He said that "selfie users are seeking some kind of approval from peers and the larger community which thanks to the Internet is now effectively infinite."

And there must be some truth to the statement as the very point of the selfie isn't to showcase an event, or destination. It is purely an image of yourself. It is telling everyone, here I am. Look at me and because we live in a time where opinions are given over everything whether valid or not, it is also saying judge me.

Yet although we perceive the popularity of the selfie as being a modern one accelerated by the growth of social media sites, selfies or rather self-portraits go back much further than the invention of the Internet or even the camera.

It seems that human kind has always had a slight obsession with preserving images of themselves. The very first self portraits can be seen in Ancient Egyptian paintings and sculptures with an image Pharaoh Akhenatens chief sculptor in 1365BC possibly being the oldest self portrait found. From there there is Jan Van Eyck with "Portrait of a man in a turban" in 1433 and it was during the renaissance period that increased wealth and an interest in the individual as a subject that they became more popular.

The 1860s then saw a huge rise in popularity of the sharing of little photographs and the introduction of the photo booth in 1850 allowed people to get pictures of themselves much faster than a painted portrait. Fast forward to the introduction of the hand-held camera to the digital camera and eventually the Internet and social media, somewhere along the way, the self-portrait became today's much loved selfie.

And it seems the selfie is evolving. Gone are the days of straight facing pictures or even the dreaded duck face. There are a different types of selfies. For example there is the "I found a look that works for me and I'm sticking with it". Here we see remnants of the posing phenomenon that originally ruled the social networks. Walk into any club, bar, party in Nairobi and you undoubtedly see the group of girls or girl hands on hip, head cocked to slightly to the side not forgetting the pout.

Then we have the "backdoor brag selfie". This is the selfie that is used to brag about something without actually mentioning it. It will usually involve a new necklace, top, shoes, glasses etc hashtag, yet unashamedly and blatantly draw focus to the bodies assets.It is famously used by celebrities like Rihanna to showcase their latest purchases. Remember her #newboots selfie? What new boots you ask? Exactly! Your eyes go straight to her partially bare and yes, very well formed derriÈre.

There is also the "hipster selfie". Reserved for those that are obviously above the selfie movement. The original rulers of instagram back when it was "cool", the hipster selfie will never admit that they are the focus of the picture. They may instead obscure half their face with a vintage something, followed by a retro filter that artificially dates it and we have the "alternative" selfie.

Next there is the "full body selfie". This one is pretty self explanatory. Usually used with a #newoutfit or more likely #bikiniready or even that annoying #gymtime with the shirt lifted up to show washboard abs. The full body selfie will always say, look at my body! Isn't it great! We get it. You work out!

Don't forget the "I just woke up, look how cute I look!". Don't lie. It took a lot of hair arranging, pillow manoeuvring and a carefully chosen filter for you to look like that. No one looks that good first thing in the morning. No one!

So there we have it. The rise of the selfie. A movement that has fed what seems to be an increasingly growing narcissistic nature of society. Yet it is also one that has brought us closer together. In a time where almost every single event and moment of time is documented and shared with everyone, it has provided yet another way for people to communicate with each other. And love them or hate them, selfies have become part of our culture.

Selfies: A brief history

2005: The term "selfie" is first used by Richard Krause in a "how-to" photography guide. "The guesswork that goes into selfies often results in serendipitous photographic surprises."

Feb 2007: a group called "selfie shots" is started on Flickr which defines the selfie as a "photograph of oneself in an arm-extended posture. Not to be confused with a photo of oneself in a mirror or other reflected surface."

June 2010: the iPhone 4 is released. The first phone to feature a front-facing camera, which allows users to take and frame self portraits.

Oct 2010: Instagram is launched, reaching more than 100 million active users by April 2012. The app lets people share photos from their smartphones and enhance them with filters. More than 23 million pictures have been uploaded with the #selfie tag.

June 2012: Selfie joins the Oxford English dictionary's watch list of words for possible inclusion. "This colloquial term for a photographic self-portrait has thus far appeared primarily in social media contexts."

Dec 2012: Selfie appears in Time magazine's top buzzwords of 2012. "Selfies are often snapped at odd angles with smartphones and include part of the photographer's arm."

Jan 2013: The Obama daughters, Malia and Sasha, are pictured taking a selfie at their father's presidential inauguration.

April 2013: The Samsung Galaxy S4 is released, featuring a 2 mega pixel front-facing camera.

June 2013: Instagram launches the fourth version of its software, the app's new 15-second video feature. The selfie movie is born.

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Source: AllAfrica