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A selfie (/ˈselfiː/) is a self-portrait photograph, typically taken with a digital camera or camera phone held in the hand or supported by a selfie stick. Selfies are often shared on social networking services such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. They are usually flattering and made to appear casual. Most selfies are taken with a camera held at arm's length or pointed at a mirror, rather than by using a self-timer. A selfie stick can be used to position the camera farther away from the subject, allowing the camera to see more around them.
Robert Cornelius, an American pioneer in photography, produced a daguerreotype of himself in 1839 which is also one of the first photographs of a person. Because the process was slow he was able to uncover the lens, run into the shot for a minute or more, and then replace the lens cap. He recorded on the back "The first light Picture ever taken. 1839."
The debut of the portable Kodak Brownie box camera in 1900 led to photographic self-portraiture becoming a more widespread technique. The method was usually by mirror and stabilizing the camera either on a nearby object or on a tripod while framing via a viewfinder at the top of the box. Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia, at the age of 13, was one of the first teenagers to take her own picture using a mirror to send to a friend in 1914. In the letter that accompanied the photograph, she wrote, "I took this picture of myself looking at the mirror. It was very hard as my hands were trembling."
Photographic self-portraiture flourished in the 1970s when affordable instant cameras birthed a new medium of self-expression, capturing uncharacteristically personal insight into otherwise conservative individuals and allowing amateurs to learn photography with immediate results. This practice transitioned naturally across to digital cameras as they supplanted film cameras around the turn of the millennium.
The first use of the word selfie in any paper or electronic medium appeared in an Australian internet forum on 13 September 2002. In Karl Kruszelnicki's 'Dr Karl Self-Serve Science Forum', a post by Nathan Hope stated:
Um, drunk at a mates 21st, I tripped ofer (sic) and landed lip first (with front teeth coming a very close second) on a set of steps. I had a hole about 1cm long right through my bottom lip. And sorry about the focus, it was a selfie.
The concept of uploading group self-taken photographs to the internet, although with a disposable camera and not a smartphone, dates to a webpage created by Australians in September 2001, including photos taken in the late 1990s (captured by the Internet Archive in April 2004).
As early as 2003, Italian media artist Alberto Frigo started photographing every object his right hand uses. The life long project resulted in the first categorized collection of selfies showing the artist every time he brushed his teeth, every time he put on deodorant etc.
The term "selfie" was discussed by photographer Jim Krause in 2005, although photos in the selfie genre predate the widespread use of the term. In the early 2000s, before Facebook became the dominant online social network, self-taken photographs were particularly common on MySpace. However, writer Kate Losse recounts that between 2006 and 2009 (when Facebook became more popular than MySpace), the "MySpace pic" (typically "an amateurish, flash-blinded self-portrait, often taken in front of a bathroom mirror") became an indication of bad taste for users of the newer Facebook social network. Early Facebook portraits, in contrast, were usually well-focused and more formal, taken by others from distance. In 2009 in the image hosting and video hosting website Flickr, Flickr users used 'selfies' to describe seemingly endless self-portraits posted by teenage girls. According to Losse, improvements in design—especially the front-facing camera of the iPhone 4 (2010), mobile photo apps such as Instagram and Snapchat led to the resurgence of selfies in the early 2010s.
Initially popular with young people, selfies gained wider popularity over time. By the end of 2012, Time magazine considered selfie one of the "top 10 buzzwords" of that year; although selfies had existed long before, it was in 2012 that the term "really hit the big time". According to a 2013 survey, two-thirds of Australian women age 18–35 take selfies—the most common purpose for which is posting on Facebook. A poll commissioned by smartphone and camera maker Samsung found that selfies make up 30% of the photos taken by people aged 18–24. By 2013, the word "selfie" had become commonplace enough to be monitored for inclusion in the online version of the Oxford English Dictionary. In November 2013, the word "selfie" was announced as being the "word of the year" by the Oxford English Dictionary, which gave the word itself an Australian origin.
Selfies have also been taken beyond Earth. Selfies taken in space include those by astronauts, an image by NASA's Curiosity rover of itself on Mars, and images created by an indirect method, where a self-portrait photograph taken on Earth is displayed on a screen on a satellite, and captured by a camera.
In 2011, a crested black macaque pressed a trigger on a wildlife photographer's camera, set up in an Indonesian jungle for that specific purpose; when the camera was later recovered it was found to contain hundreds of selfies, including one of a grinning female macaque. This incident set off an unusual debate about copyright. In 2016, a federal judge ruled that the monkey cannot own the copyright to the images.
In October 2013, Imagist Labs released an iOS app called Selfie, which allows users to upload photos only from their front-facing smartphone camera. The app shows a feed of public photos of everyone’s selfies and from the people they follow. The app does not allow users to comment and users can only respond with selfies. The app soon gained popularity among teenagers.
In describing the popularity of the "foot selfie", a photograph taken of one's feet while sunbathing at exotic locations, The Hollywood Reporter said that it could be "2014's social media pose to beat".
In January 2014, during the Sochi Winter Olympics, a "Selfie Olympics" meme was popular on Twitter, where users took self-portraits in unusual situations. The spread of the meme took place with the usage of the hashtags #selfiegame and #selfieolympics.
In April 2014, the advertising agency iStrategyLabs produced a two-way mirror capable of automatically posting selfies to Twitter, using facial recognition software.
Selfies have been popular on social media. Instagram has over 53 million photos tagged with the hashtag #selfie. The word “selfie” was mentioned in Facebook status updates over 368,000 times during a one-week period in October 2013. During the same period on Twitter, the hashtag #selfie was used in more than 150,000 tweets.
The appeal of selfies comes from how easy they are to create and share, and the control they give self-photographers over how they present themselves. Many selfies are intended to present a flattering image of the person, especially to friends whom the photographer expects to be supportive. However, a 2013 study of Facebook users found that posting photos of oneself correlates with lower levels of social support from and intimacy with Facebook friends (except for those marked as Close Friends). The lead author of the study suggests that "those who frequently post photographs on Facebook risk damaging real-life relationships." The photo messaging application Snapchat is also largely used to send selfies. Some users of Snapchat choose to send intentionally-unattractive selfies to their friends for comedic purposes.
Posting intentionally unattractive selfies has also become common in the early 2010s—in part for their humor value, but in some cases also to explore issues of body image or as a reaction against the perceived narcissism or over-sexualization of typical selfies.
The practice of taking selfies has been criticised not only for being narcissistic, preventing assessment and appreciation of what is happening in the present, but also for being mindlessly conformist behaviour, when everyone does what everyone else is doing, "like that scene in The Life of Brian – where the crowd gathers outside Brian's window and enthusiastically chants in unison: 'Yes, we're all individuals! ... Yes, we are all different!' "
Gender roles, sexuality, and privacy
Selfies are popular among both genders. Sociologist Ben Agger describes the trend of selfies as "the male gaze gone viral", and sociologist and women's studies professor Gail Dines links it to the rise of "porn culture" and the idea that sexual attractiveness is the only way in which a woman can make herself visible. Writer Andrew Keen has pointed out that while selfies are often intended to give the photographer control over how their image is presented, posting images publicly or sharing them with others who do so may have the opposite effect—dramatically so in the case of revenge porn, where ex-lovers post sexually explicit photographs or nude selfies to exact revenge or humiliate their former lovers. Nonetheless, some feminists view selfies as a subversive form of self-expression that narrates one's own view of desirability. In this sense, selfies can be empowering and offer a way of actively asserting agency. Copyright law may be effective in forcing the removal of private selfies from public that were forwarded to another person.
In 2013 in the blog Jezebel, author Erin Gloria Ryan criticized selfies, stating that the images they often portray, as well as the fact that they are usually posted to social media with the intent of getting positive comments and "likes", reinforce the "notion that the most valuable thing [a young woman] has to offer the world is her looks." The Jezebel post provoked commentary on Twitter from users arguing that selfies could empower women by promoting different standards of beauty, leading to the adoption of the hashtag #feministselfie. Media critic Jennifer Pozner saw selfies as particularly powerful for women and girls who did not see themselves portrayed in mainstream media.
Many celebrities – especially sex symbols – post selfies for their followers on social media, and provocative or otherwise interesting celebrity selfies are the subject of regular press coverage. Some commentators, such as Emma Barnett of The Telegraph, have argued that sexy celebrity selfies (and sexy non-celebrity selfies) can be empowering to the selfie-takers but harmful to women in general as they promote viewing women as sex objects. Actor and avid selfie poster James Franco wrote an op-ed for The New York Times defending this frequent use of selfies on his Instagram page. Franco defends the self-portrait stating they should not be seen as an egocentric act, but instead a journalistic moment as the selfie "quickly and easily shows, not tells, how you're feeling, where you are, what you're doing" in a way that a text communication might fail to convey.
A selfie orchestrated during the 86th Academy Awards by host Ellen DeGeneres is the most retweeted image ever. DeGeneres said she wanted to homage Meryl Streep's record 18 Oscar nominations by setting a new record with her, and invited twelve other Oscar celebrities to join them, which included Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Channing Tatum, Bradley Cooper, Kevin Spacey, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyong'o, Jared Leto and Jennifer Lawrence. The resulting photo of the celebrities broke the previous retweet record within forty minutes, and was retweeted over 1.8 million times in the first hour. By the end of the ceremony it had been retweeted over 2 million times, less than 24 hours later, it had been retweeted over 2.8 million times. It beat the previous record, 778,801, which was held by Barack Obama, following his victory in the 2012 presidential election.
President Barack Obama made news headlines during Nelson Mandela's memorial celebration at Johannesburg's FNB Stadium with various world leaders, as he was snapped taking a selfie and sharing smiles with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, and later with British Prime Minister David Cameron, as they gathered to pay tribute to Mandela. The decision to take the selfies was considered to be in poor taste, as British political columnist Iain Martin critiqued the behaviour as "clowning around like muppets". The photos also depict the First Lady Michelle Obama sitting next to them looking "furious and mortified". Despite the criticism, Roberto Schmidt, the photographer who captured the photos taken at the celebration, reported to the Today show it was taken at "a jovial, celebratory portion of the service".
In India, BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi posted a selfie on Twitter after voting in Gandhinagar, India. The post became a major trending item on the micro-blogging platform. In July 2014, the Swiss government became the first to take and post a picture of an entire national government (the picture was taken by one of the seven members of the government, Alain Berset).
In January 2014, Business Insider published a story referring to such images as "usies". A photograph of Pope Francis with visitors to the Vatican has been called an usie by The Daily Dot, and TMZ has used the term to describe a selfie taken of celebrity couple Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez.
Devices for holding smartphones or compact cameras called Selfie sticks, are often used when taking a group selfie as that allows a wider, more panoramic image capture.
The term "groufie" has been trademarked by Chinese phone manufacturer Huawei Technologies in China, France, Germany, Russia, and the U.S. The word was introduced during the launch of its Ascend P7 smartphone in 2014. Huawei defines the groufie as a panoramic selfie involving multiple subjects, as well as background scenery, captured using the front facing, 8-megapixel camera and panorama capabilities of its phones.
Psychology and neuroscience
According to a study performed by Nicola Bruno and Marco Bertamini at the University of Parma, selfies by non-professional photographers show a slight bias for showing the left cheek of the selfie-taker. This is similar to what has been observed for portraits by professional painters from many different historical periods and styles, indicating that the left cheek bias may be rooted in asymmetries of brain lateralization that are well documented within cognitive neuroscience. In a second study, the same group tested if selfie takers without training in photography spontaneously adhere to widely prescribed rules of photographic composition, such as the rule of thirds. It seems that they do not, suggesting that these rules may be conventional rather than hardwired in the brain's perceptual preferences.
In April 2014, a man diagnosed with body dysmorphic disorder recounted spending ten hours a day attempting to take the "right" selfie, attempting suicide after failing to produce what he perceived to be the perfect selfie. The same month brought several scholarly publications linking excessive selfie posting with body dysmorphic disorder.
Psychological studies conducted in 2015 among social media users suggested the relationship between selfie-posting behaviors and narcissism. The link between number of selfies posted online and narcissism was stronger among men than women. A more recent study examining the relationship between personality and selfie-posting behaviors suggests that extroversion and social exhibitionism positively predict frequency of selfie posting, whereas self-esteem is generally unrelated to selfie-posting behaviors. Results also revealed correlation between number of selfies posted and histronic personality disorder in men, indicating that posting selfies might be related with maladaptive patterns of personality among men.
In popular culture
In September 2014, a short-lived romantic comedy television series titled Selfie premiered on ABC in the United States. The series follows the life of Eliza Dooley, a woman obsessed with the idea of achieving fame through the use of social media platforms, including Instagram, where she regularly posts selfies. She begins to worry that "friending" people online is not a substitute for real friendship, so she seeks help from Henry Higgs, a marketing image guru, to gain friends in the real world and become less self-centered. The show is largely a critique of perceived narcissism in social media.
Injuries while taking photos
The first known selfie-related death occurred 15 March 2014, when a man electrocuted himself on top of a train.
2014, 'The Year of the Selfie', was also the year Makati and Pasig, 'Selfie Capital of the World', saw their first selfie-related death when a 14 year old girl fell from the 3rd floor staircase landing to the 2nd.
In 2015 it was reported that more people had been killed taking selfies that year than by shark attacks. Other publications have debated that analysis. Takers of selfie photographs have fallen to their deaths while losing their balance in a precarious position, and others have been wounded or killed while posing with handguns which have accidentally fired.
Concerned about the increasing number of incidents in Russia where attempts to set up a unique selfie had led to injuries and deaths, the Russian Ministry of the Interior released a "Selfie Safety Guide" in 2015 that warned selfie enthusiasts about some common dangerous behaviors. Moscow, Russia's most active selfie-taking city, is estimated to have 8 selfie-takers per 100,000 people, and ranks 301st among cities worldwide.
A 2015 study showed that 20% of young Britons had taken selfies while driving a car. Manchester has the highest amount of selfie-takers per capita in Great Britain with 114 per 100,000 people, and ranks 7th internationally. The Italian chief of state police expressed concern over the same phenomenon in Italy on the occasion of the launch of a short film with the title "Selfie". Milan is the 8th most active selfie-taking city in the world with 108 selfie-takers per 100,000 people.
According to Professor Amanda du Preez, there are least three types of selfie pictures documenting death:
- selfies unknowingly taken before death
- selfies of death where the taker’s death is almost witnessed
- selfies with death where the taker stands by while someone else dies
This does not include a death or injury sustained while attempting to take a selfie.
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