Monday, 5 January 2015

Selfies – the ultimate document?

I don’t take many selfies. More than I used to, to be sure, but not many by the standards of typical, self-obsessed narcissists and professional self-publicists. Excluding duplicates the image below pretty much sums up a year’s worth – from middle aged hippy in Kefalonia to middle aged jumper wearer in Cumbria – and don’t ask about the spooky penguin.


There is an excellent site about selfies here which is well worth a visit for anyone interested in the “phenomenon”. Looking at the data I am an atypical selfie maker. I am neither young, nor particularly attractive. Unless under the influence of sun and alcohol I do not strike strange facial poses (unless we count the exaggerated double chin) nor do I seek to sell myself to the world.

What does any of this have to do with documentary?  Perhaps everything and nothing. Nothing because these selfies are the ultimate, no questions asked, subjective nonsense. They are not documenting anything. I have complete control of the content, the framing, the location and given an adequate phone camera, even reasonable control of the technicalities. I can and do appear how I wish – although it’s probably not wise to analyse that too closely.

And yet – everything. Because a selfie might be considered the ultimate example of a “document”. it is prepared to evidence what I looked like at a particular time and place, that evidence is shared with a wider public , and in general it is placed in a retrieval system that would allow subsequent researchers with appropriate access to build a picture of my existence – and for all I know Facebook may at this very moment be preparing ads for dodgy headscarves and holidays locations to display on my timeline on the basis of a visual analysis of the above.

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