From Selfie To Self-Expression

I had heard about an exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery, London called ‘From Selfie To Self-Expression’ which explores the history of the selfie and the role of the mobile phone being used as an artistic tool. I will admit that I am partial to a selfie (don’t judge) but I do often wonder, what are the effects social media has on people? Many people’s lives seem to be dictated by social media whether we like to admit it or not.

Part of the selfie room at the end of the exhibition.

The exhibition was created in partnership with Huawei to create the world’s first ever exhibition dedicated to selfies. Huawei’s television screens and smart phones made up a large portion of the works on the walls as well as being used in a competition for photographers.

The first room consisted of television screens showing various self-portrait paintings by artists such as 17th century artist Rembrandt, 19th century Vincent Van Gogh and 20th century Frida Kahlo. Next to each screen was a smart phone with a mocked up Instagram page where you could ‘like’ the self-portrait. Nigel Hurst, the gallery chief executive who has the idea for the show said;

“In the 16th century, it was only the artists who had the skills, materials and tools to create self-portraits…Now we all have that wherewithal through our smartphones.”

He adds that it is interesting for visitors of the gallery to express their ‘like’ or dislike of these paintings as artists such as the ones included in the exhibition are introduced to people whilst at school as artistic geniuses.

A room I particularly enjoyed was dedicated to celebrity selfies from the last couple of years. One image that stood out to me was of Hillary Clinton during her presidential election campaign. This moment the Clinton’s personal photographer Barbara Kinney captured is remarkable. The image gained a lot of attention at the time and it is easy to see why. I should point out that Clinton had invited the crowd to take a selfie however, it did make me consider the reasons why we take selfies.

Is it purely for likes and attention on social media? Do we do it to make ourselves feel better through other people’s validation? I believe the answer is a complicated one. Whilst we do seek approval from our peers on social media one could argue that in the instance such as the one below, people wanted to document the moment they were actually with her. For some she is an incredible woman and who knows, their selfie might be sitting proudly on their mantle piece at home!

Hillary Clinton at a rally in Orlando, Florida. Photo taken by Barbara Kinney

The exhibition was really interesting and it definitely had me thinking about how technology has changed the art world and what/who we consider to be artists. I suppose if you look back at history from drawings in caves to beautiful oil paintings and now digitally created art works technology has always affected the art world. I find tech is often associated with flashing lights and talking robots but it goes a lot deeper and further into history than that.

Huawei and the Saatchi gallery had opened a competition for photographers to be creative and experimental with the idea of a selfie. You can look at the winner and other entries here. They also have other exhibitions in the gallery which are really interesting such as Narciso Contreras’ photojournalism exhibition Libya: A Human Marketplace which explores the humanitarian crisis currently happening in Libya since the fall of Gaddafi. The exhibition closes on the 6th of September so if you have a chance definitely check it out!

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