The Curated Ego

The Russian Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna was one of the first teenagers to take a selfie in 1914 when she was just 13, whilst almost half a century earlier, the Countess di Castiglione was already exploring significant moments in her life, as well as fantasies, by directing her own portrait photographs. Ever since, the selfie evolved into the most prolific photographic trend of our time, making the Oxford English Dictionary select it as the word of 2013, an emblem of the zeitgeist.

As part of my residency at Fred‘s I’ve been looking at the ways photobooth images feed in to this ‘selfie’ culture with a variety of pieces, some of which were shown last night at the National Portrait Gallery as part of StudioStrike’s panel discussion on The Curated Ego: What Makes a Good Selfie?

“A conversation between leading academics and artists investigating questions around self-portraiture and personal identity, the discussion presented work by emerging and established photographic artists. Philosophers have often linked personal identity to memory: it is suggested that we continue to be the same person as long as our memory with past events persist. But are memories unchanging, or even objective accounts of our experience that are stored in a glass bell? Or can memories be curated to fit a desirable image of the self? Improvements to technology allow us to take and retake selfies with minimum effort until we are satisfied with the result, thus adding to a bundle of representations of a desired self, narratives and roles.”

Not so with analogue photobooths but the newer digital booths certainly play into this compulsion. In turn, the casual snap shot-aesthetic of selfies makes all these narratives look more believable and easier to identify with, not least for the sitter/author. This discussion aimed to explore self-portraiture as a memory-making process and integrate it within the framework of the psychological theories of the metaphysics of personal identity. It explored the ways in which the self and self-perception can be constructed or altered through the use of the photographic image.

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