While scanning through some ruined film, I came across a badly exposed "selfie" I had attempted to take. Now, I understand that nothing about this photo was exposed to accurately read the lighting for the fish tank, as well as the lighting of the room, in addition to the light shining on me from the screen door. In addition to the visible mounting fluid (a sign of how lazy my scanning habits were that day), the dust marks, and the crooked frame; this is not a photo for the books! However, I still decided to keep the photo of myself, because it was a photo of myself (which can often be hard to come by as a photographer). It was not too long after viewing this photo, that I came across an essay by Adam Levin, featured on Invisible Culture: An Electronic Journal for Visual Culture (IVC), titled The Selfie in the Age of Digital Recursion.
Selfies aren't new to the cell phone era, not in my point of view at least. There have been a variety of ways in which people have attempted to document themselves in one way or another. Yes, I do consider those old commissioned portraits to be forms of selfie! Although, Levin makes it quite clear that his examination of the selfie, is rooted in the digital age. The main difference between the past and the present, in my own opinion, is the level of accessibility, and the level of engagement with others, in order to obtain photographs of yourself. Now, selfies can be obtained by anyone, and all you need is your hand, and a camera or phone. But Levin dissects the selfie as "the representation of the self as a product of the system of interpersonal relationships through which it is articulated online." Levin does a great job on focusing on the ways in the selfies have become productions themselves, and the ways in which it's informed our interpersonal relationships. As Levin states:
The fissure between phenomenal experience and digital interaction originates in the translation of the former into the latter. This kind of translation not only involves a system of mediation (disassociation), but also one of transmission, in which the selfie serves as a “real-time” performance of self oriented towards an audience situated elsewhere. This performance, so integral to processes of individuation and identification within groups, is always defined by a spatial and temporal displacement, as well as a separation between the self and the sign (the selfie) that is its surrogate.4
Yet, the very fact of a fissure implies a primary connection, a continuum in which a cleft has been rent, the persistence or memory of which reveals the fissure as such. Phenomenal engagements feed into digital interactions, just as the latter feed back into the former, each informing the other in an ongoing system of recursion that implies a certain continuity between the two. The digital and phenomenal aspects of contemporary group dynamics are thus more indicative of interpenetrating ecologies than they are of separate planes of experience.
The strength of Levin's writing, lies in the ways in which he is able to draw connections between modern representations of shifting ecologies, with the ways in which we perform within these spaces. This is demonstrated through a section which focuses on the aspects of disassociation and associative realignment, as demonstrated in the "RIP Grandpa Wu" selfie (pictured below). As Levin writes:
While selfies, such as “RIP Grandpa Wu,” may evince a certain callousness and indifference to behavioral norms, they also reveal an associative realignment. [Fig. 1] This realignment moves the onus of experience away from phenomenal engagements with adjacent strangers and towards digital interactions with online communities. The former tend to be ruled by pre-established codes of conduct that ensure civility in place of familiarity; the latter rely on more itinerate and fluid systems of mores developed within (or adopted by) online associative networks in the process of formation.
Overall, I think this is a great read, that does an amazing job of incorporating a short history of photography with aspects of modern aesthetic and interpersonal culture. Do give this essay a read, it spurs some interesting questions and moments for self awareness.