Psychology of the selfy
Why we feel the need to take self-portraits

The Selfy
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Photo by Jonas Seaman

Self-portraits have been around since 1365 BC, and became more popular in the fourteen hundreds, when mirrors were more readily available. There are a lot of reasons behind why self-portraits are done. Early women artists painted themselves in the nude in order to study human anatomy, since they were not allowed to study nude models like their male counterparts. Artists like Albrecht Dürer painted self-portraits for advertising reasons and to promote his work. Other artists included themselves along with other prominent people of their time, such as in Raphael’s School of Athens. Artists like Vincent van Gogh – who painted himself thirty-seven times – and Frida Kahlopainted more into the painting than their image.  The brushstrokes and other objects in the self-portraits speak to inner turmoil and pain.

Frida Kahlo
Self-Portrait with Monkeys 1943
Private collection
Oil on canvas, 35 x 81 cm

Just as the availability of the mirror increased the amount of self-portraits done, so have technology advancements continued to push this forward. Fast forward to present day; when sites like Facebook and Flickr are inundated with selfies – a new term for the self-portrait.

VisualPhotoGuide.com asked around, and we found that some of the reasons haven’t changed. A few photographers said that at times they can’t find a model, and they use the camera on themselves in order to get the shot they are after. A single mom said that she had no other choice, until her son grew up there was no one else to take her picture. Some voiced a concern about the growing trend toward vanity in our culture, while others marked it up to a form of self-expression. If there is an underlying statement being conveyed by selfies, it could be there are as many reasons as pictures. Or could it be that the introduction of new technology have introduced a cultural phenomenon?

Photo by y pbeens

Selfies are part of what author Hal Niedzviecki describes as the Peep culture in his book ‘The Peep Diaries: How We’re Learning to Love Watching Ourselves and Our Neighbors.’ Peep culture is sharing personal details of our private lives and peering into the lives of others, through TV, social media, and anywhere else we can post a selfy. “It’s a whispered, hypnotic idea: You need to know. You need to be known.” says Niedzviecki. “In Peep we feel the cathartic release of confession, the allure and danger of gossip, and the timeless comfort of ritual.”

Photo by Jackal of all trades

Perhaps we feel the need to turn the camera on ourselves to simply stand up and be part of the culture we live in. As if to say to the world “I was here,” like tiny graffiti left on bathroom walls. Only the walls are the World Wide Web, and they can’t be painted over.

2 Responses to Psychology of the selfy
Why we feel the need to take self-portraits

  1. Heather says:
    I like the ties to art history. I think there’s an underlying current that we want to see what we look like to others. The mirror is a great analogy. Also, the fact that we don’t waste film on our self-portraits is a big upside.
  2. Isa says:
    I would like to use this article in a paper, who is the author ?

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