Archive for the ‘Photography’ Category

1838: The first photograph of a human being…(credit Mashable )   1 comment

1838: The first photograph of a human being.


The first photograph of a human being

by Amanda Uren

This picture, the earliest known photograph to include a recognizable human form, was taken in Paris, France, in 1838 by Louis Daguerre. The human in question is standing in the bottom-left of the photograph, on the pavement by the curve in the road.  He is having his boots shined.



I have seized the light. I have arrested its flight.

The exposure time for the image was around seven minutes, and although the street would have been busy with traffic and pedestrians, it appears deserted. Everything moving was too fast to register on the plate.

The exception is the man at the lower-left who sat still long enough to appear in the photograph. The person cleaning his boots is also visible, although not as distinctly.

It has been speculated that instead of a shoeshine boy, the man stood at a a pump. However, comparison with another image taken by Daguerre of the same spot at noon reveals boxes used to hold brushes and polishes.

Like every Daguerreotype — the first publicly announced photographic process, and named after Daguerre — the photograph was a mirror image.  Here is the image reversed back to show the view as Daguerre saw it:


The street is the Boulevard du Temple, part of a fashionable area of shops, cafés and theaters. It was nicknamed the “Boulevard du Crime” because of the many crime melodramas playing in its theaters. It later lost many of these when Baron Haussmann, under the instructions of Napoleon III, remodeled and modernized Paris, removing the narrow, dark and dangerous streets of the medieval city and replacing them with parks and open spaces. This process began in 1853.

While the man having his boots shined and the person doing the shining are the most recognizable human figures, a very detailed examination of the photograph reveals other possible people:

The man having his boots shined, and the person doing the shining


Two women and a cart or pram near the shoeshine boy


A child’s face in the window of the white building


A child and a dog, on the opposite side of the street


Vaguer images of other people, also on the other side of the street


…and also the image of a rug hanging from a balcony


These ephemeral figures are hard to see because the original image photographic plate itself measured only 6.5 inches by 8.5 inches.

Posted November 5, 2014 by arnoneumann in History, Photography

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NASA Releases Earth Day “Global Selfie” Mosaic of Our Home Planet | NASA   Leave a comment


NASA Releases Earth Day “Global Selfie” Mosaic of Our Home Planet | NASA.

” NASA’s “Global Selfie” Earth mosaic contains more than 36,000 individual photographs from the more than 50,000 images posted around the world on Earth Day, April 22, 2014.
Image Credit:
May 22, 2014
Facinating nd ambitious creative Project by NASA to coincide with Earth Day.
RELEASE 14-147
NASA Releases Earth Day “Global Selfie” Mosaic of Our Home Planet

For Earth Day this year, NASA invited people around the world to step outside to take a “selfie” and share it with the world on social media. NASA released Thursday a new view of our home planet created entirely from those photos.

The “Global Selfie” mosaic was built using more than 36,000 individual photographs drawn from the more than 50,000 images tagged #GlobalSelfie and posted on or around Earth Day, April 22, on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Google+ and Flickr. The project was designed to encourage environmental awareness and recognize the agency’s ongoing work to protect our home planet.

Selfies were posted by people on every continent and 113 countries and regions, from Antarctica to Yemen, Greenland to Guatemala, and Pakistan to Peru. The resulting global mosaic is a zoomable 3.2-gigapixel image that users can scan and explore to look at individual photos. The Global Selfie was assembled after several weeks of collecting and curating the submitted images.

“With the Global Selfie, NASA used crowd-sourced digital imagery to illustrate a different aspect of Earth than has been measured from satellites for decades: a mosaic of faces from around the globe,” said Peg Luce, deputy director of the Earth Science Division in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, Washington. “We were overwhelmed to see people participate from so many countries. We’re very grateful that people took the time to celebrate our home planet together, and we look forward to everyone doing their part to be good stewards of our precious Earth.”

The GigaPan image of Earth is based on views of each hemisphere captured on Earth Day 2014 by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite instrument on the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (NPP) satellite. Suomi NPP, a joint mission between NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, collects data on both long-term climate change and short-term weather conditions.

The Global Selfie mosaic and related images and videos are available at:

The Global Selfie is part of a special year for NASA Earth science. For the first time in more than a decade, five NASA Earth Science missions are scheduled to launch in one year. The Global Precipitation Measurement Core Observatory, a joint mission with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, was launched in February. The Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 is set to launch in July with the Soil Moisture Active Passive mission to follow in November. And two Earth science instruments — RapidScat and the Cloud-Aerosol Transport System — will be launched to the International Space Station.

NASA missions have helped identify thousands of new planets across the universe in recent years, but the space agency studies no planet more closely than our own. With 17 Earth-observing satellites in orbit and ambitious airborne and ground-based observation campaigns, NASA produces data that help scientists get a clearer picture of Earth’s interconnected natural systems. The agency shares this unique knowledge with the global community and works with institutions in the United States and around the world that contribute to understanding and protecting our home planet.

For more information about NASA’s Earth science activities in 2014, visit:


Steve Cole
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-0918 “

Posted May 24, 2014 by arnoneumann in aerospace, Photography

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A new way to explore Paris: by color | CNN Travel   Leave a comment


Carrying on with the thread of colour theme posts :…read & see the gallery…….

A new way to explore Paris: by color | CNN Travel.

Paris colors — one photographer’s multi-hued take on the city

When Nichole Robertson relocated to Paris from New York more than four years ago, she roamed the city.

She soon hit upon a distinctive way of documenting her wanderings.

She took photos of particular colors she found popping out against that characteristic Paris gray, then went on a scavenger hunt to find where in the city those colors — a certain rust red, say, or eggshell blue — recurred.

She posted the resulting photographic series on a blog (now archived at

The bestseller

And then the part that doesn’t usually happen: the blog went viral and led to a bestselling book, “Paris in Color.”

The images are clearly Parisian, but organized in a novel and engaging fashion.

Like so many new arrivals in Paris, Robertson at first traipsed around the city’s most popular sights, such as Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe.

She noticed visitors dutifully pulling back to snap pictures of their travel companions in front of these classic attractions and then dutifully putting their cameras away.

Robertson decided to go for an opposite approach: focusing in on detail and color.

She took shots that highlighted the varying shades of brown in a row of baguettes, a bicycle saddle bag and an aged stone building façade, for example.

She focused on yellow as it cropped up in a café façade, a tart in a patisserie or flowers in a window basket.

Capture the details

“The details are the things that you will actually remember — capture those,” Robertsonadvises photographers.

She seeks out culture, bits of nature thriving in the city and moments of human interaction.

Neutral grays and browns are featured prominently in her work; bouncing against each other, they feel lively.

Robertson’s color-seeking approach is surprising, given the uniformly neutral shade that prevails in so much of Paris.

Buildings are typically off-white or gray — an ideal canvas for shocks of color, as well as the more subtle shades, she sought out.

Robertson prefers a dull, overcast sky.

When the sun is shining and the sky is blue, she puts down her camera and heads to a café.

Robertson’s project is, in a sense, all about surface — surface color — but she also feels it gives her a sense of the city’s underlying rhythms and quirks.

Shapes or theme

You needn’t just focus on a color, Robertson suggests.

Any repeating shape or theme will do.

Parisian typography, pastries or transportation methods are all good starting points for re-focusing the way you see things.

“It might seem absurd just to wander around Paris,” Robertson says, especially if you have limited time there.

But to really get to know the city she recommends choosing a particular area and doing just that, even for one day, noticing the quirks and repeating themes — and photographing them.

The same approach works equally well in many other old European cities, such as Rome.

As for Robertson, she returns again and again to Montmartre, the Left Bank, and the banks of the Seine, all of which she also documents in an iPhone app, The Paris Journals.

“Paris gets distilled down to one or two icons that don’t capture all the other equally good stuff you see,” she says.

“The good stuff is in the side streets.” “

Posted March 24, 2014 by arnoneumann in Colour, Paris, Photography

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Charles Marville: Photographer of Paris (January 29–May 4, 2014) – YouTube   Leave a comment

Charles Marville: Photographer of Paris (January 29–May 4, 2014) – YouTube.

“Widely acknowledged as one of the most talented photographers of the nineteenth century, Charles Marville (French, 1813–1879) was commissioned by the city of Paris to document both the picturesque, medieval streets of old Paris and the broad boulevards and grand public structures that Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann built in their place for Emperor Napoleon III. This exhibition presents a selection of around one hundred of his photographs.

Marville achieved moderate success as an illustrator of books and magazines early in his career. It was not until 1850 that he shifted course and took up photography—a medium that had been introduced just eleven years earlier. His poetic urban views, detailed architectural studies, and picturesque landscapes quickly garnered praise. Although he made photographs throughout France, Germany, and Italy, it was his native city—especially its monuments, churches, bridges, and gardens—that provided the artist with his greatest and most enduring source of inspiration.

By the end of the 1850s, Marville had established a reputation as an accomplished and versatile photographer. From 1862, as official photographer for the city of Paris, he documented aspects of the radical modernization program that had been launched by Emperor Napoleon III and his chief urban planner, Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann. In this capacity, Marville photographed the city’s oldest quarters, and especially the narrow, winding streets slated for demolition. Even as he recorded the disappearance of Old Paris, Marville turned his camera on the new city that had begun to emerge. Many of his photographs celebrate its glamour and comforts, while other views of the city’s desolate outskirts attest to the unsettling social and physical changes wrought by rapid modernization.

Haussmann not only redrew the map of Paris, he transformed the urban experience by commissioning and installing tens of thousands of pieces of street furniture, kiosks, and Morris columns for posting advertisements, pissoirs, garden gates, and, above all, some twenty thousand gas lamps. By the time he stepped down as prefect in 1870, Paris was no longer a place where residents dared to go out at night only if accompanied by armed men carrying lanterns. Taken as a whole, Marville’s photographs of Paris stand as one of the earliest and most powerful explorations of urban transformation on a grand scale.

By the time of his death, Marville had fallen into relative obscurity, with much of his work stored in municipal or state archives. This exhibition, which marks the bicentennial of Marville’s birth, explores the full trajectory of the artist’s photographic career and brings to light the extraordinary beauty and historical significance of his art.


Posted March 18, 2014 by arnoneumann in History, Paris, Photography

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This 3200 Year Old Tree Is So Huge It’s Never Been Captured In A Single Image…Until Now. | Distractify   Leave a comment


This 3200 Year Old Tree Is So Huge It’s Never Been Captured In A Single Image…Until Now. | Distractify.

Posted March 17, 2014 by arnoneumann in Photography, Sequoia

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Earliest Photographic Selfie ? : Daguerreotype and Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey   Leave a comment

“The daguerreotype /dəˈɡɛrɵtp/ (Frenchdaguerréotype) process (also called daguerreotypy), introduced in 1839, was the first publicly announced photographic process and the first to come into widespread use. By the early 1860s, later processes which were less costly and produced more easily viewed images with shorter exposure times had almost entirely replaced it. A small-scale revival of daguerreotypy among photographers interested in historical processes was increasingly evident in the 1980s and 1990s and has persisted into the 2010s.”

Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

“Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey (21 October 1804 – 7 December 1892) was a French photographerand draughtsman who was active in the Middle East. His daguerreotypes are the earliest surviving photographs of GreecePalestineEgyptSyria and Turkey. Remarkably, his photographs were only discovered in the 1920s in a storeroom of his estate and then only became known eighty years later.

Girault de Prangey studied painting in Paris at the École des Beaux-Arts and in 1841 he learned daguerreotypy, possibly from Louis Daguerre himself or from Hippolyte Bayard. Girault de Prangey was keenly interested in the architecture of the Middle East, and he toured Italy and the countries of the eastern Mediterranean between 1841 and 1844, producing over 900 daguerreotypes of architectural views, landscapes, and portraits.

After his return to France, Girault de Prangey made watercolour and pen-and-ink studies after his photographs and published a small-edition book of lithographs from them. He also made stereographs of his estate and the exotic plants he collected. Girault de Prangey did not exhibit or otherwise make his photographs known during his lifetime.”

File:Prangey portrait.jpg

The dangerous, beautiful life of a Lego minifig photographer | The Verge   1 comment

The dangerous, beautiful life of a Lego minifig photographer | The Verge.

“UK-based photographer Andrew Whyte specializes in dramatic light art and long exposures of the night sky, but some of his most striking work involves helping an inch-high fellow photographer get a good shot. For over a year, Whyte has been shooting what he calls the “Legography” series, starring a Lego minifig with a bulky black camera and a penchant for exploration. The minifig travels with Whyte, waiting to be posed scaling a fence, watching the sunrise, or playing tourist in London.

In order to allow for some portability and spontaneity, the Legography series is shot on an iPhone, initially the 4S and now the 5S. Whyte uses app 645 Pro to get more manual control over his shots than the default camera software would allow, then processes them in Snapseed before uploading them to theLegography Facebook page. “As an exploration of mobile photography, the project was very enlightening and quite liberating — to know I could be just about anywhere and still keep on top of things,” says Whyte. The rest of his photography can be found at Long Exposures.”

Posted March 2, 2014 by arnoneumann in LEGO, Photography, Photorealism

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BBC News – The urban explorers of the ex-USSR   Leave a comment

BBC News – The urban explorers of the ex-USSR.

The urban explorers of the ex-USSR

Exploring the grandiose buildings and industrial infrastructure left over from the USSR is a popular pastime for some young people – but not the faint-hearted.

Man climbing a factory chimney stack

Known as urban exploration, the hobby involves climbing high-rise buildings, towers and bridges, or going deep underground. Russia’s vast territory is dotted with industrial sites, some of which are unused and empty. But Vadim Makhorov was commissioned to take these pictures inside a water pipe by the owners of this functioning power plant in the east of the country.

Man inside a water pipe at a power plant

Many urban explorers are skilled photographers who take striking images. “Who needs words when you’ve got stars in the sky?” asks Vitaly Raskalov, who took this picture of Kirill Vselensky clinging to a Soviet-era red star which adorns a building in Moscow. But the dangers are obvious. It’s not a hobby that should be encouraged. Many of the explorers do not even take the precaution of wearing a helmet. At least one is reported to have died.

Man clinging to a star at the top of a high-rise building in Moscow.

General Kosmosa’s picture shows an urban explorer taking a break on top of Kiev’s South Bridge over the River Dnieper, which is the tallest in Ukraine at 135m (443ft).

Explorer in a sleeping bag on top of a bridge.

Taking this picture was dangerous in more ways than one. The clock that Kirill Vselensky’s face is emerging from is located across the street from the main KGB building in Minsk, Belarus.

Man in clock tower

Under Russian law, trespassing on private property is punishable by a small fine, but entering abandoned and unguarded buildings is usually legal.

Climber illuminated by light from below

“What appeals to me the most is the ambience of lost places,” says Sam Namos, who took the picture below of an explorer known as Vanh1to, atop a huge satellite dish. “The process of looking for them is breathtaking, too. If you’re serious about it, there is so much you can learn about your own country, so many mysteries you can discover.”

Man on top of a rusty satellite dish

“Some say if you see one power station, you’ve seen them all, but I disagree,” says Vadim Makhorov. “I’ve done photo-shoots at many power plants, and I manage to find something new and interesting every time.”

Man taking photographs at a power plant

“Urban exploration photography shows our cities from the inside,” says Olena Zinchenko, who helped to organise an exhibition in Kiev last year. “These pictures are alive because they reveal the city from a completely different perspective which few have the privilege of seeing.” They’re important, she says, because they tell the story of industrial decline in the the former Soviet Union.

Man inside an underground passageway

“This is probably my best find, a gypsum mine in eastern Ukraine. An inconspicuous door led to an underground city with its own traffic, street signs and 20-metre-tall caves,” says Yaroslav Segeda.

Inside a gypsum mine.


Posted February 13, 2014 by arnoneumann in Buildings, Photography, Russia

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BBC News – The camera which captures 360 degree images up in air   Leave a comment


The camera which captures 360 degree images up in air

31 January 2014 Last updated at 14:57 GMT

The Panono camera ball takes 360 degree photographs when it is thrown in the air.

The sphere is covered by 36 cameras which, once airborne, simultaneously capture individual images – these are then pieced together in the cloud to produce a 108 megapixel image which can be explored in any direction.

BBC Click’s Spencer Kelly reports.

BBC News – The camera which captures 360 degree images up in air.

Posted February 2, 2014 by arnoneumann in Photography

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Art at Arm’s Length: A History of the Selfie — Vulture   Leave a comment


The first selfie? Parmigianino’s Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, 1523–24.


Art at Arm’s Length: A History of the Selfie — Vulture.

Art at Arm’s Length: A History of the Selfie

1. Defining a new form.

We live in the age of the selfie. A fast self-portrait, made with a smartphone’s camera and immediately distributed and inscribed into a network, is an instant visual communication of where we are, what we’re doing, who we think we are, and who we think is watching. Selfies have changed aspects of social interaction, body language, self-awareness, privacy, and humor, altering temporality, irony, and public behavior. It’s become a new visual genre—a type of self-portraiture formally distinct from all others in history. Selfies have their own structural autonomy. This is a very big deal for art.

Genres arise relatively rarely. Portraiture is a genre. So is still-life, landscape, animal painting, history painting. (They overlap, too: A portrait might be in a seascape.) A genre possesses its own formal logic, with tropes and structural wisdom, and lasts a long time, until all the problems it was invented to address have been fully addressed. (Genres are distinct from styles, which come and go: There are Expressionist portraits, Cubist portraits, Impressionist portraits, Norman Rockwell portraits. Style is the endless variation within genre.)

These are not like the self-portraits we are used to. Setting aside the formal dissimilarities between these two forms—of framing, of technique—traditional photographic self-portraiture is far less spontaneous and casual than a selfie is. This new genre isn’t dominated by artists. When made by amateurs, traditional photographic self-portraiture didn’t become a distinct thing, didn’t have a codified look or transform into social dialogue and conversation. These pictures were not usually disseminated to strangers and were never made in such numbers by so many people. It’s possible that the selfie is the most prevalent popular genre ever.

Let’s stipulate that most selfies are silly, typical, boring. Guys flexing muscles, girls making pouty lips (“duckface”), people mugging in bars or throwing gang signs or posing with monuments or someone famous. Still, the new genre has its earmarks. Excluding those taken in mirrors—a distinct subset of this universe—selfies are nearly always taken from within an arm’s length of the subject. For this reason the cropping and composition of selfies are very different from those of all preceding self-­portraiture. There is the near-constant visual presence of one of the photographer’s arms, typically the one holding the camera. Bad camera angles predominate, as the subject is nearly always off-center. The wide-angle lens on most cell-phone cameras exaggerates the depth of noses and chins, and the arm holding the camera often looks huge. (Over time, this distortion has become less noticeable. Recall, however, the skewed look of the early cell-phone snap.) If both your hands are in the picture and it’s not a mirror shot, technically, it’s not a selfie—it’s a portrait.

Selfies are usually casual, improvised, fast; their primary purpose is to be seen here, now, by other people, most of them unknown, in social networks. They are never accidental: Whether carefully staged or completely casual, any selfie that you see had to be approved by the sender before being embedded into a network. This implies control as well as the presence of performing, self-criticality, and irony. The distributor of a selfie made it to be looked at by us, right now, and when we look at it, we know that. (And the maker knows we know that.) The critic Alicia Eler notes that they’re “where we become our own biggest fans and private paparazzi,” and that they are “ways for celebrities to pretend they’re just like regular people, making themselves their own controlled PR machines.”

When it is not just PR, though, it is a powerful, instantaneous ironic interaction that has intensity, intimacy, and strangeness. In some way, selfies reach back to the Greek theatrical idea of methexis—a group sharing wherein the speaker addresses the audience directly, much like when comic actors look at the TV camera and make a face. Finally, fascinatingly, the genre wasn’t created by artists. Selfies come from all of us; they are a folk art that is already expanding the language and lexicon of photography. Selfies are a photography of modern life—not that academics or curators are paying much attention to them. They will, though: In a hundred years, the mass of selfies will be an incredible record of the fine details of everyday life. Imagine what we could see if we had millions of these from the streets of imperial Rome.

2. What they say.

1: Francis and friends: holy selfie.

I’ve taken them. (I used to take self-shots with old-fashioned cameras and send the film off to be developed, then wait by the mailbox, antsy that my parents would open the Kodak envelope and find the dicey ones. These, unlike selfies, were not for public view.) You’ve taken them. So has almost everyone you know. Selfies are front-page news, subject to intense, widespread public and private scrutiny, shaming, revelation. President Obama caught hell for taking selfies with world leaders. Kim Kardashian takes them of her butt. The pope takes them [1]. So did Anthony Weiner; so did that woman on the New York Post’s front page who, perhaps inadvertently, posted pics of herself with a would-be suicide on the Brooklyn Bridge in the background. James Franco has been called “the selfie king.” [2] A Texas customer-service rep named Benny Winfield Jr. has declared himself “King of the Selfie Movement.” [3]

2: Franco: Selfies are “tools of communication.”

Many fret that this explosion of selfies proves that ours is an unusually narcissistic age. Discussing one selfie, the Posttrotted out a tired line about “the greater global calamity of Western decline.” C’mon: The moral sky isn’t falling. Marina Galperina, who with fellow curator Kyle Chayka presented the National #Selfie Portrait Gallery, rightly says, “It’s less about narcissism—narcissism is so lonely!—and it’s more about being your own digital avatar.” Chayka adds, “Smartphone selfies come out of the same impulse as Rembrandt’s … to make yourself look awesome.” Franco says selfies “are tools of communication more than marks of vanity … Mini-Mes that we send out to give others a sense of who we are.” Selfies are our letters to the world. They are little visual diaries that magnify, reduce, dramatize—that say, “I’m here; look at me.”

3: Benny Winfield Jr.: self-crowned selfie king.

Unlike traditional portraiture, selfies don’t make pretentious claims. They go in the other direction—or no direction at all. Although theorists like Susan Sontag and Roland Barthes saw melancholy and signs of death in every photograph, selfies aren’t for the ages. They’re like the cartoon dog who, when asked what time it is, always says, “Now! Now! Now!”

4: Van Gogh: proto-selfie.

We might ask what art-historical and visual DNA form the selfie’s roots and structures. There are old photos of people holding cameras out to take their own pictures. (Often, people did this to knock off the last frame in a roll of film, so it could be rewound and sent to be processed.) Still, the genre remained unclear, nebulous, and uncodified. Looking back for trace elements, I discern strong selfie echoes in Van Gogh’s amazing self-portraits [4]—some of the same intensity, immediacy, and need to reveal something inner to the outside world in the most vivid way possible. Warhol, of course, comes to mind with his love of the present, performative persona and his wild Day-Glo color. But he took his own instant photos of other subjects, or had his subjects shoot themselves in a photo booth—both devices with far more objective lenses than a smartphone, as well as different formats and depths of field. Many will point to Cindy Sherman. But none of her pictures is taken in any selfie way. Moreover, her photographs show us the characters and selves that exist in her unbridled pictorial imagination. She’s not there.

Maybe the first significant twentieth-century pre-selfie is M. C. Escher’s 1935 lithograph Hand With Reflecting Sphere. Its strange compositional structure is dominated by the artist’s distorted face, reflected in a convex mirror held in his hand and showing his weirdly foreshortened arm. It echoes the closeness, shallow depth, and odd cropping of modern selfies. In another image, which might be called an allegory of a selfie, Escher rendered a hand drawing another hand drawing the first hand. It almost says, “What comes first, the self or the selfie?” My favorite proto-selfie is Parmigianino’s 1523–24 Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, seen on the title page of this story. All the attributes of the selfie are here: the subject’s face from a bizarre angle, the elongated arm, foreshortening, compositional distortion, the close-in intimacy. As the poet John Ashbery wrote of this painting (and seemingly all good selfies), “the right hand / Bigger than the head, thrust at the viewer / And swerving easily away, as though to protect what it advertises.”

Everyone has their own idea of what makes a good selfie. I like the ones that metamorphose into what might be called selfies-plus—pictures that begin to speak in unintended tongues, that carry surpluses of meaning that the maker may not have known were there. Barthes wrote that such images produce what he called “a third meaning,” which passes “from language to significance.”

I’m not talking about cute contradictions, unintended parody, nip slips, moose knuckles. Everyone’s subject to these unveilings. No, I’m talking about more unstable, obstinate meanings that come to the fore: fictions, paranoia, fantasies, voyeurism, exhibitionism, confessions—things that take us to a place where we become the author of another story. That’s thrilling. And something like art.

5: Quirke at Auschwitz: Barthesian selfie.

Take, for example, a photo posted last July by John Quirke [5]. The picture itself is nothing; a strapping twentysomething, shot from below in what looks like a basement. His mouth is agape, his eyes wide open. He wears headphones. The impact of the picture comes in Quirke’s tag: “Selfie from the gas chamber in Auschwitz.” The picture exceeds itself, vaults outside meaning, becoming what Barthes described as “locatable but not describable.” Image and text merge in ways that add more oomph. There are similar pictures of people at Chernobyl, in front of car wrecks, with a suicide taking place over one’s shoulder. Another selfie is captioned “The photos are of me at Treblinka …”

We can’t merely dismiss these as violations of sanctified spaces or lapses of judgment. Atget photographed crime scenes. War correspondents catch images of people being blown to bits. Many of us have taken pictures of homeless people, Dealey Plaza in Dallas, an electric chair, the hole left by the World Trade Center. I photographed the second tower falling. The new twist of the selfie is that we’re in these pictures. (I didn’t include myself in that one.) Many are in bad taste, and some indulge in shock value for shock value’s sake, but they are, nevertheless, reactions to death, fear, confusion, terror, annihilation.

6: Don West: chilling.

They can, at times, evince our need to unsee things. On the pickup site Grindr, people use as their avatars selfies taken in Berlin’s Holocaust memorial. Captions include “Aussie on holidays 🙂 Lets [sic] have some fun” and “How many times did you jerk off.” We know our sex drives are with us always, but so is something just as archaic: taboo. After making an idiotic knock-knock joke in court,George Zimmerman’s defense lawyer, Don West, took a selfie in a car with his daughters eating ice-cream cones [6]. The chilling caption is by his daughter Molly: “We beat stupidity celebration cones,” followed by emoticons of a ringing bell, a grinning face, and the hashtag “#dadkilledit.” The world grows dark before our eyes in selfies like these.

3. What they don’t say (but do reveal).

7: Kardashian: revealing yet unrevealing.

The bizarre side of the mirror is Kim Kardashian’s now-famous picture of her ass and side-boob [7]. The pose is utterly banal; she’s like millions of others admiring themselves in mirrors, trying to show some part of their body to best advantage. Kardashian goes a step further. As she gets everything to show just right while admiring her own image in the phone, the third meaning that pops out is not her body. It’s how weirdly stage-managed the scene is. Her body is blatantly visible while her décor is carefully blocked off by Japanese screens. Her ass-crack is intentionally outlined, but she doesn’t want us to see her sofa. Kim has even authored four rules for the perfect selfie: “Hold your phone high [as you shoot]; know your angle; know your lighting; and no duckface!”

Geraldo: self-regarding.

Equally idiotic winds of third meaning blow through other recent celebrity selfies. Seventy-year-old Geraldo Rivera’s selfie shows him gazing at his own stomach muscles in a bathroom mirror [8], naked but for a low-slung towel. Unlike third meanings that tell us something new, selfies like this confirm what we already know. (Here, that Geraldo is a self-involved publicity-loving hound dog.) It’s no different from those celebrity porn films that are self-released accidentally­-on-purpose, either to remake images or out of simple sociopathology. Then there’s the subcategory of what I call the Selfie Sublime: an extraordinary moment, photographed to incorporate the shooter’s own astonishment. We see it in astronaut Aki Hoshide’s selfie hovering in space [9], his silver helmet showing none of his features, the Sun behind him, the Earth reflected in his visor. In its counterpart, the Selfie Terrible Sublime, we see not beauty but agony. On December 11, Ferdinand Puentes photographed himself in the beautiful blue ocean off the shore of Molokai, in Hawaii, seconds after his small passenger plane crashed and began to sink [10]. The look on his face is spectral, terrified, ecstatic, eerie, vertiginous. This is someone photographing himself lost and imperiled, recording and sending off what he knows might be his final moments. After being rescued, Puentes said that when they heard sirens and bells going off in the plane and the water coming up fast, “everyone knew what was going on.” While looking at the selfie, he repeated, “It hurts.” We know this from his selfie.

9: Hoshide: space selfie.

Soon, from somewhere in the digital universe, came comparisons to Puentes’s with selfies taken by gamer avatars in Grand Theft Auto 5 [11] that depict themselves with catastrophes. Here, people have created fictional figures that mimic what we do, and amazingly enough, the genre’s earmarks are often present in their avatars’ self-shots: the telltale raised shoulder, the close-in view, the bad camera angle, and the stare.

10: Plane crash: the self imperiled.

Back on Earth, the most famous selfie of 2013 has never actually been seen. When President Obama, British prime minister David Cameron, and Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt took a group selfie at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service [12], we saw only Roberto Schmidt’s photograph of them doing so. This was a kind of Las Meninas selfie—akin to Velázquez’s astonishing royal-portrait-plus-self-portrait, which ricochets among the subjects, switching up who’s seeing whom from where. Many bellowed about the Obama selfie’s gall and pomposity. Its third meaning, however, is far more pedestrian and human: It’s the invisible thought balloon over the subjects. “It is totally incomprehensible, even to us, to be us,” they are saying, “or to be us, being here.” It pictures three famous people engaged in what Hegel called “picture-thinking.” Or selfie-thinking.

11: Avatar selfie: fictional character shoots self.

Prank selfies abound; most are banal, fun Jackass-type pictures. Although there are oddities here as well, like the guy who quietly crawled atop a bathroom stall and photographed himself with the unaware person sitting on a toilet below. There are antic photos of, say, someone doing a headstand with his head in a fishbowl or break-dancing on a sink. A lot of quasi-performance-art selfies are better than a lot of so-called real art. People throwing computers timed to do something—light up, blow up, whatever—in midair and then photographing themselves as the event unfolds, or holding a giant copy machine up to a mirror. There’s a selfie-plus of a guy and his dog taken by—wait for it—the dog! [13] Of course, there are also selfies of people performing oral sex. My predilections lean toward Balzacian selfies, pictures with strange stuff visible in the background—the ones where we see the books on the coffee table, items on the shelves, posters on the walls, leftovers in the kitchen. All these things let me think I’m getting some peek into the person’s unseen life. The less publicity-driven (non-Kardashian) celebrity Instagram and Twitter feeds are good for this, because those lives are usually closed off to us, and the small details seem extra-­revelatory. How much they have been staged, of course, we will never know.

12: Obama et al.: “las meninas” selfie.

4. Art history, art future.

I’m far from the first to say the selfie is something significant. Way back in 2010, the artist-critic David Colman wrote in the New York Times that the selfie “is so common that it is changing photography itself.” Colman in turn quoted the art historian Geoffrey Batchen saying that selfies represent “the shift of the photograph [from] memorial function to a communication device.” What I love about selfies is that we then do a second thing after making them: We make them public. Which is, again, something like art.

13: Dog shoots self: a jokey selfie-plus.

Whatever the selfie represents, it’s safe to say it’s in its Neolithic phase. In fact, the genre has already mutated at least once. Artist John Monteith has saved thousands of anonymous images from the selfie’s early digital era, what Monteith calls the “Wild West days” of selfies. These are self-portraits taken with crude early webcams, showing weird coloration, hot spots, bizarre resolution. Posted online starting around 1999, they have mostly evaporated into the ethersphere. The “aesthetic” of these early selfie calling cards and come-ons is noticeably different from today’s, because the cameras were deskbound. Settings are more private, poses more furtive, sexual. Tics crop up: women showing new tongue piercings, shirtless men with nunchucks. They seem as ancient as photographs of nineteenth-century Paris.

It’s easy to project that, with only small changes in technology and other platforms, we will one day see amazing masters of the form. We’ll see selfies of ordeal, adventure, family history, sickness, and death. There will be full-size lifelike animated holographic selfies (can’t wait to see what porn does with that!), pedagogical and short-story selfies. There could be a selfie-Kafka. We will likely make great selfies—but not until we get rid of the stupid-sounding, juvenile, treacly name. It rankles and grates every time one reads, hears, or even thinks it. We can’t have a Rembrandt of selfies with a word likeselfie.

*This article originally appeared in the February 3, 2014 issue of New York Magazine.



Posted February 1, 2014 by arnoneumann in Photography, Selfie

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