It wasnt supposed to be such a big deal. Just three world leaders leaning in for a photograph. But when Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt took a selfie with US President Barack Obama and UK Prime Minister David Cameron at Nelson Mandelas memorial service,the world was divided between those who jeered at such self-indulgence and those who cheered. But one thing was clear: the selfie had arrived.
In November,Oxford Dictionaries Online chose selfie as the Word of the Year and defined it as a photograph that one has taken of oneself,typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website. And while 2013 might be the year of selfie,the concept has been around since the caveman sharpened some tools and laboriously scratched an image of himself on the walls of his habitat. Leonardo da Vinci did it,Rembrandt did it,Vincent Van Gogh (with and without a ear) too; Frida Kahlos self-portraits sometimes came in twos; and with his face turning around somewhat in surprise,Egon Schieles Self-Portrait with Raised Bare Shoulder in 1912 is posed almost exactly like a present-day selfie. Artists,photographers have been creating self-portraits for many years. Selfie is just a new term that has been coined because photography has become more democratic, says Pablo Bartholomew,photographer,whose self-portraits,raw and stark,act as entries from a personal diary that he has kept over the years. He doesnt take selfies,though.
While its primary purpose is to inform people of the conspicuous consumption in ones life,the selfie is no ordinary trumpet to blow. A little Facebook,Instagram stalking will reveal the very many ways you can shoot a selfie. Theres the selfie for dummies,the simple straight-up face shot. Theres the most famous type: the duckface. The idea is to pout in the picture but since not all of us were born with model good looks,it is more likely that we will resemble a duck and not Angelina Jolie. But there is hope for us yet,the sparrow selfie is the new duckface. Open your eyes wide and part your lips a wee bit for the picture. If you want to move away from the face,there is the body shot: this selfie can be taken at the gym,the beach,and in the dressing room (not the bathroom,bathroom selfies are the bane of the internet),and in some cases,without ones head,since the image should ideally focus only on the body. Also,if you have an asset you want to bring to the front,you can take a bumfie (a selfie of the posterior),an art reality TV star Kim Kardashian specialises in. Other kinds of selfies include the celebrity selfie,which is probably what Thorning-Schmidt was taking at Mandelas memorial service.
Blame it on the camera phone,or the newer,lighter digital cameras that made it easy for people to take selfies. In the iPhone age,with phones and tablets featuring secondary,front-facing cameras,mastering a reverse angle is no biggie. Today more people are conscious of their appearance in social media. A selfie allows for greater control over ones image, says Natasha Hemrajani,35,a Mumbai-based independent photographer. Hemrajani is no stranger to the selfie and offers a few tips to shoot the perfect one. In the words of Robert Capa,if your pictures arent good enough,you arent close enough. The same goes for the selfie, jokes Hemrajani. Find good light or natural light,she says,preferably lit from the front and choose a clean background.
For some,the selfie is a ritual. A lot of the selfies I take are of my two-year-old daughter and me. The 20-odd minutes that we spend in the car are Baba-Mimi alone time, says Bodhisatwa Dasgupta,30,adman,Grey Worldwide. He takes the selfies before he has to drop Mimi to her playschool in Gurgaon. Our selfies involve making faces at the camera. The more twisted an expression,the better the story behind it, says Dasgupta.
But mostly,the selfie is just about having a little fun. I take a selfie every week, says Pranaadhika Sinha Devburman,28,a social activist based in Kolkata. While she campaigns against child sexual abuse,Devburman also freelances as a make up artist. I choose a top angle to look thinner and to highlight either the eyes or my mouth, she says. Sharing her selfies on her Facebook profile welcomes both admiration as well as judgement. A social worker selfie! Uncivilised,said someone, says Devburman with a laugh. As if social activists have to be ungroomed and well…selfie-unfriendly, she says.