Self-portrait is defined as a portrait or likeness of an artist, created by that artist.
A selfie, as we all know is a photograph of ourselves taken with a smart phone or other various mediums of technology.
Yesterday when I was playing with my new (40mm f2.8) pancake lens, I decided to take a photo of myself (notice my resistance to the word "selfie" already!). The ambient light from the window was soft because of the cloud coverage, but still bright, and my new lens was practically begging to be used. So I stopped my packing, and set up the camera on the sill of my window.
The two shots in which I'm wearing a sweater and there is a black background are what I would consider to be a "self portrait". The amount of work that went into composing these wasn't substantial (it took me all of ten minutes to get both of the shots). After placing the camera, I turned the screen around so that it was facing me, plugged in my shutter release cable into the side of the camera, and then set about positioning myself and my reflector (silver side up).
One of my favorite things about my window is that it's placement allows for me to have butterfly lighting. Because my room is in the basement, when I go to take a photo by my window, the lighting is above my head, shining down at an angle that creates this dreamy lighting. Note: The butterfly lighting is seen much more clearly in the black and white image and can be noted by it's angular shading of the cheekbones, and the wing-like shape below the nose.
So here's the bottom line- it took me all of three paragraphs to tell you how I composed my self-portrait- I clearly like it; I'm proud of it. But a selfie? Would I take more than a sentence worth or words to describe how I composed a selfie? Absolutely not. It reeks of, "let me tell you how how vain I am about myself, and how I angled the phone to make myself look skinnier, and how I fake smiled, blah blah blah, I'm vain, blah blah."
What is the difference here? Why am I proud of one photo of myself, and indifferent toward another?
For me, it boils down to skill, quality, and time.
Similar to selfies vs self-portraits, in our culture modern art is on the fast and furious up-rise, and has been for quite some time. Last January I was given the fantastic opportunity to take a three week art class called, "Contemporary Strategies in Modern Art." Included in this class was a 5 day trip to New York City, where we visited a hefty number of art museums where we easily spent ten hours a day viewing and discussing the works.
While this was an incredible experience, I have to say that there was a great deal of modern art that I found less than impressive. Some works for example were solid-colored paintings on canvas. Nothing more, nothing less. Another example would be a display by Isa Genzken, in the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). The work was an assortment of mannequins with entirely random clothes and objects attached to them. From fedoras to hula hoops to umbrellas, these dummy's attire was bizarre, and I felt myself repulsed by it. Having come just come from seeing Van Gogh's Starry Night literally moments before, my mind and emotions were ill-equipped to extend graciousness to a work of such a negative contrast.
Having observed the rubbish for as long as I could handle, I turned to the two art professors leading the trip and asked, "At what point does art cease to be art, and is instead simply things thrown together at random?"
One of the professors replied, "That isn't a good question. A good question would be, 'What is good art?'"
Gesturing to the exhibit that looked more fitting for a Forever 21 than a world-renowned art museum I said, "Well in my opinion, this isn't good art. There was no dedication of time and thought to this; no pouring of the artist into the creation process. How can something be art if there is no skill or time commitment involved?"
Clearly offended, speaking defensively he said, "You know Alex, I think you would like this artist __________ (I don't recall the name), he has snobbish opinions like you."
Though appalled at the time, I wouldn't go back and change that conversation. The trip and class as a whole were very key in helping me form my opinion of art, as well as how I interpret and interact with it. This way of thinking is also helpful to me in my photography in that it motivates me to create meaningful photos. Sometimes this is done by trying new photography techniqes (like shooting athletic action shots with a lighting kit in total darkness), and other times it's by being willing to offer my services at no cost to someone that it would truly bless, but would be unable to afford photos otherwise.
For me photography is like a mirror. It's shaped the way I see life, and it allows me to reflect what I see with you, while challenging me not to settle with "selfie" level work. What a blessing.