The Art of Selfies
Not Just Vanity

Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Picasso were totally into selfies. Some of the most renowned works of art are self-portraits. Whatever the medium, painting or taking pictures of oneself documents a personal period in time.

Archival lens

“Selfie” was the Oxford English Dictionary’s Word of the Year for 2013. It’s defined as “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically with a smartphone or webcam, and uploaded to a social media website.” The mainstream definition is a self-portrait photograph.

Eastman Kodak introduced the first camera in 1888, and by the turn of the 20th century they had mass-marketed single-use box cameras. However, the first selfie can be attributed to Robert Cornelius, a lamp maker and early pioneer in photography, who in 1839 produced a daguerreotype, or early photograph, of himself.

Peer connection has always been important for teenagers. The modern selfies were introduced in the 1990s within Japanese schoolgirl culture. Teens would take photos with friends and exchange copies that could be pasted into “kawaii” albums.

Even Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia wrote an autobiography titled “The First Selfie.” As a teenager corresponding with her friends, she recounts, “I took this picture of myself looking at the mirror. It was very hard as my hands were trembling.”


There really is power in images. According to “Historical Analysis and Interpretation: Photographs and Symbols,” “At first, many Native Americans were wary of having their photographs taken and often refused. They believed that the process could steal a person’s soul and disrespected the spiritual world. Over time, however, some Native Americans came to cherish photographs Historical selfie of Anastasia. Photo Credit: The Atlantic as links to ancestors and even integrated them into important ceremonies.” There are now tribal photo albums full of selfies.

“The Dove Selfie,” a documentary of a powerful social experiment, debuted in January of 2014. It featured mothers and daughters taking selfies and “redefining beauty one photo at a time.” The project showed that selfies could actually be great tools for empowering women and encouraging self-acceptance of body image.

Selfies also are important in the fashion marketing industry; plus, they help influencers set social media trends. Selfies provide unique travel mementos. Unfortunately, individuals’ quests to capture the perfect shot sometimes make them unaware of their surroundings and result in them falling off the cliff or other tragic accidents.


If a picture is worth a thousand words, then selfies are really journaling and selfreflection. Looking at oneself through selfies actually allows for introspection, self-assurance and silliness.

The book “Selfies: Why We Love (and Hate) Them” by Katrin Tiidenberg is an analysis of the selfie culture. “Selfies have so many different meanings: They are sometimes self-reflexive or even therapeutic tools for understanding and accepting oneself. Furthermore, they fulfill two important needs—becoming somebody and belonging to a group,” Tiidenberg writes.

Every period in history shares rich details about the lives lived through self-expression. Selfies are the modern era’s future archival masterpieces. So grab that selfie stick and strike a pose!

About Author

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Maka is the owner of WaveMaker Consulting, LLC and a freelance writer and educator based in Rochester.

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