Some like to scoff at the inundation of digital self-portraits gracing our screens. I’ve definitely been one of the scoffs in that chorus. But when I catch myself judging, I like to reflect on myself – on the parts of myself I’m not looking at. I can witness the narcissistic cultural trends and feel a sense of superiority. Until I look deeper into my assumptions about the selfie and get to wondering about humans.
In previous centuries, painters would depict themselves in self-portraits without being labeled as self-obsessed. The self-portrait reveals a great deal — the unconscious details expose the paradigm through which the artist sees themselves, or would like to see themselves. The ego and the shadow are both at play. The shadow self aches to be seen in full view; to confess all the shame that they conceal so ardently. To break out of the facade and risk discovering that they might be unlovable. But the yearning to be truly seen is connected to a quiet hope, deeply seated, that clings to the possibility that I, and all my desperation and ugliness and sadism, might actually be lovable. To someone. And right before that voice has found the courage to speak, the ego militantly puts the shadow self back in its place. The imperfections are retouched are with their paintbrush. Showing what they think people want to see.
Cell phone cameras have bypassed the need for artistic skills to make us all into the artists who can frame ourselves. Retouch our blemishes. Filter the evidence of the passing of time. Why do we selfie-portrait ourselves? On a base level, because we yearn to be seen. To confirm that we do exist. Making ourselves the subject of our pictures is far from the self-importance we assume.
When I take a selfie-portrait, I feel anything but self-important. I feel an urge to capture a moment in time. I feel vulnerable. I feel a need to share my eyes with someone who might be able to see through my barriers and understand the space that I’m in, in that precise moment.
So when you browse through selfie-portraits, you might now get a glimpse of that person’s yearning, and the myriad of tones that seep out in.