The photographer’s selfie

BitDepth#958 for October 14

A bit of photographic meta. A self-portrait of a selfie in progress. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.
A bit of photographic meta. A self-portrait of a selfie in progress. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

A few weeks ago, I posted my first selfie on Facebook ( and it occasioned a small bit of fuss among the circle of friends who commented on it.

Evidently, I was believed to be widely opposed to this widespread phenomenon of self-documentation, or at least, it seemed, I was expected to be.

Part of that is likely to be because I don’t tend to take many photographs of myself. As I often tell skittish portrait subjects by way of empathy, I’ve spent an awful lot of time and energy getting on the other side of the camera.

It’s an aspect of a series of posts about portraiture that I’ve been working on for my photo blog, and one that I’ve never fully considered before now.

And yet, I’ve got quite a few photographs of myself on file. Among them a black and white multiple exposure I took while working out that technique from the early 1980’s, the “Mohawk for Carnival” photo and of late, far more frequent annual updates to meet the voracious needs of modern social networks, which quickly tire of the same thing posted for too long.

I’ve got at least one Facebook friend who changes her profile photo with the reliability and speed of Big Ben, pretty much rotating in something new or rarely seen on what seems like an hourly cycle.

It’s a thing that I’ve wrestled with for a long time, particularly since at least part of my business is based on the need to update and improve corporate images among people for whom the perception of self is as important as the reality.

That’s why I find it so surprising that creative people are so often terrible at putting a meaningful image up as their avatar, the digital representation of self so pivotal to online interaction that there’s a service, Gravatar, dedicated to it.

Among my creative colleagues on Facebook and Twitter, there are still a few outline heads and eggs, the default icon that pops up when you haven’t uploaded a photo representing yourself to those services, along with a smattering of bizarre images that have nothing to do with the people I know.

When it comes to the Internet generally and social media in particular, I’ve found that most impressions are based on a quick read of “about” pages and anything personal.

Yet it is in these places, now public on a scale without precedent, that we seem most comfortable with being seen as quirky, strange or complicated.

There are some people who want to be seen as exactly that and others who will argue that I manage to be all three despite posting a photo revealing same, so there’s that.

A selfie can be a remarkably informative thing. I know more about the sons and daughters of friends by what the photographs they post of themselves than I do from anything I get told by their parental units.

There is, however, a gulf of difference between a selfie, which tends to capture an engaging and personally appreciated moment for further appreciation, and a self-portrait, which tends to be a more deliberate and considered effort at defining oneself visually.

Both are intended for public consumption, but they tend to serve quite different needs, though the inevitable mash-ups that digital technology encourages have tended to blur the line between the two.

Of late, I’ve been considering the difference between the two as I began to rethink the value of call cards.

Do people look for your call card or search for you online first? I’ve begun to think that Google is the new directory for finding people and that an online call card might be a good idea.

While preparing to post on the popular people finder service About Me, I also decided to press into service a domain I’d been holding for the last four years to keep it out of the hands of name poachers as a prototype online call card.

Increasingly, we are all going to be evaluated by the images we circulate online and will be measured and understood less by what we write than by the pictures we post. The pictures we post of ourselves will be the adjectives of those declarations.