The Language of Selfies

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UPDATE: In honor of National Selfie Day, Mashable featured my project alongside a short essay I wrote. Check it out here

Tourists taking selfies seems like an unlikely source of inspiration. But over the past year, these tourists inspired me to travel all over the world to answer my simple question of, “Why?”

I posed this question to a Ukrainian in Italy, a Frenchman in Chicago, a Russian in France, a Korean in Czech Republic and many other interesting combinations of people and places. The responses were surprisingly insightful and candid. Considering most photojournalistic projects I’ve embarked on revolve around controversial issues or sensitive topics, I didn’t anticipate the unanimous positivity people showed me when I asked, “So, why do you take selfies?”

Copy of TravelingByMyselfie04Although after answering my inquiries, their question for me was also, “Why?” And that was a much more daunting question for me to answer. Visually, I never doubted what drew me to pursue this project. People taking selfies is inherently interesting, hilarious, relevant…I could go on and on. But not everyone understood my visual interests, so I stumbled to explain my reasons why.

Thankfully I have a wonderful mentor in my masters supervisor, Donna DeCesare, who helped me think through the project. She forced to me think broader and deeper. Since my thesis project to complete my masters degree was approved sometime back in November, I’ve thought a lot about selfies. About why, who and what.

Copy of TravelingByMyselfie02Selfies interest me because, despite my Millennial status, I don’t take them nor do I have any desire to take them. My insider/outsider status approaching this topic helped me to not appear patronizing or condescending to my subjects, but genuinely interested.

What I found by conducting these impromptu interviews and combining them with the explosion of academic literature surrounding selfies was, what seems in hindsight, a very common sense conclusion. Essentially, the way people use selfies today is as visual vernacular. Instead of sending a note or an email or a text or even an emoji, we send selfies. We send selfies at funerals, at the Mona Lisa, in the bathroom and at the zoo. They are our language when words fail.

Instead of seeing selfies as the end of civilization and Millennials (side note: there is empirical evidence that shows that no generation takes more selfies than another, so, let’s stop blaming Millennials for selfies.) as harbingers of societal disaster, it makes more sense to understand the process of taking selfies as just another means of communication.

(If, for whatever reason, you would like to read ~5,500 words on this topic, click here to view my masters report.)

Now, here’s the part you came for: photos of people taking selfies.

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