The Unknowable Selfie
Looking at the Tech Mirror


I shot my first selfie wearing a straw hat and a fake mustache.  I was 11 years old. It was me alone looking at myself as someone else.  Since then I’ve shot mirror selfies, hubcap selfies, car bumper selfies, arm-length selfies, window selfies, happy, sad, comic, and dead serious selfies. I still haven’t seen me.

Why not? The face is our tablet to the world.  A skin screen composed of tiny muscles who seem intent on communicating expressions.  We are constantly, almost obsessively, monitoring each other's faces, longing for insight into the emotions, gaze, and attaction (or lack thereof) of others.

In 2002, I shot my first made-for-the internet selfie.  It was a reactionary selfie made after a visit to — an unconditional support site for then president George W. Bush. had created a “Traitor List” that included Jimmy Carter, Whoopi Goldberg, Hillary Clinton, Michael Moore, Madonna and a long celebrity sampling of other so-called liberals. “You’re with us or you’re with the enemy,” the website informed the online public.  I emailed an arm-length selfie including only this message: ‘If President Carter and company are traitors, I must be one, too.  Please add me to your list.” 

They did.

I visited a number of times just to see my selfie next to the word “traitor.” It was a hoot — me looking back at me looking to see who’s there.  Was I a “traitor”?  I think not.  But I still didn’t see myself.

Selfies are candy; throwaways communicating frozen vogue moments; less than zero minutes of Andy Warhol fame. Yet, selfies are apparently what we want to see.  A recent poll by Samsung found that nearly one-third of all the photographs taken by millennials are selfies.  I think that may be a conservative figure.

I see people shooting selfies everywhere — at UCI, at LACMA, at LAX — and with any luck, they will soon post these selfies for the all-seeing online selfie eye; the benevolent selfless selfie that embraces the selfie celebrity; The Geraldo Rivera; The Anthony Weiner;  The Jennifer Aniston;  The Nan Goldin;  cop selfies;  teacher selfies; cognitive biologist selfies;  shirtless selfies;  Leica myself selfies.

I can see a future of self-perpetuating selfies taking selfies of selfies, selfie dolls and suicide selfies; every waking moment a selfie stored on the great eternal digital file in the Cloud; the human family album — promoshots for friends; mugshots for PRISM. 

So, go ahead.  Take another selfie.  Show me who you are and see what you look like.  And when you know, get back to me. In spite of all my selfies, I have yet to see my self.

— Nathan Callahan

First Broadcast August 9, 2013

© / Nathan Callahan / all rights reserved


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