Taking the Selfie Seriously (Riga, 2016)

"Taking the Selfie Seriously: A Study of the Most Misunderstood Genre of Photography," an invited talk at the Riga Photography Biennial symposium "Image and Photography in the Post-Digital Era" (April 22-23, 2016), Riga, Latvia, April 22, 2016. Symposium was organized by curator and art historian Maija Rudovska.

Talk "Taking the Selfie Seriously: A Study of the Most Misunderstood Genre of Photography" in the symposium "Image and Photography in the Post-Digital Era", Riga, April 22, 2016. Photo by Hon Sun Lam.

Talk "Taking the Selfie Seriously: A Study of the Most Misunderstood Genre of Photography" in the symposium "Image and Photography in the Post-Digital Era", Riga, April 22, 2016. Photo by Hon Sun Lam.

The talk was based on some of the methods and findings of the research project Selfiecity.net (2014) and subsequent research articles written by me or co-written with Lev Manovich.

For a further elaboration of the arguments proposed in the talk, see also my article "The Networked Camera at Work: Why Every Self-portrait Is Not a Selfie, but Every Selfie is a Photograph" published in the catalog of the Riga Photography Biennial.

The talk argued against the marginalization of the selfie as a notorious and outrageous kind of photography produced by reality TV stars and other celebrities as well as immature and psychologically unstable teenagers.

The findings of Selfiecity showed that some of the popular assumptions about the selfie are not true, and emphasized the diversity and cultural difference that can be communicated via this genre of popular photography.

Furthermore, the talk pointed to the two extremes of presentism in the popular discourse about the selfie: one describes this genre as something unprecedented and unique, whereas the other attempts to directly compare today's selfies to, for example, the painted self-portraits of the artists of the Renaissance. Both of these approaches lack methodological clarity and seem to overlook the historical specificity of the selfie and the particular cultural context in which this genre exists.

These popular misconceptions about the selfie at times make it complicated to view the selfie as just one of the many sub-genres of popular photography. This talk offered an alternative approach and discussed the benefits and limitations of combining computational analysis with humanities methods in order to make sense of the selfie.