Daily prompt: Mirror, Mirror – Felfies, Selfies, and the long tradition of the self portrait

Daily Prompt: Mirror, Mirror  Look in the mirror. Does the person you see match the person you feel like on the inside? How much stock do you put in appearances? Photographers, artists, poets: show us MIRRORED.

Some of my favourite paintings done by my father are his self portraits (accomplished by spending many long hours looking into a mirror suspended just off the side near his easel). They are him, certainly, but they are not – they are studies in portraiture, the human face, and, when looked at as a series, a story of a life being lived. In an early self-portrait he is clean shaven with a neat mustache, in a more recent painting he sports a full beard (something which still catches me by surprise as Dad only started wearing a beard in his 70s…)

E. Colin Williams, ARCAThis piece was the last done before Dad grew his beard. What is striking to me about these drawings and paintings is they completely lack any ‘say cheese’ quality ubiquitous in snapshots taken during family gatherings, vacations, or when friends get together for an evening of fun. I suppose that’s partly the result of having to sit and stare at yourself long enough to actually do some sort of hand-crafted rendering. Grinning like an idiot for hours and hours would surely cramp cheek muscles and quickly transform a big smile into a pained grimace.

The selfie (a self-portrait typically taken with a hand-held device and often intended to be uploaded to a social media site) can be a grinning snapshot (there are plenty out there of people snapping self-portraits with an off kilter Eiffel Tower in the background) or have a ‘look at me and this cool thing I’m doing with this awesome other person!’ flavour, but there are also lots of selfies out there that explore who we are in our everyday lives. Felfies (self-portraits of farmers) are an example of self-portraits of farmers from around the world in their natural environments doing their thing.

This is my selfie nod to Depression Era photographer, Dorothea Lange.

In this New York Times piece, James Franco suggests the selfie is a way to introduce ourselves to the wide world and for celebrities to feed their hungry fans with an endless diet of glimpses into their private lives.

The selfie as an art form is emerging as a fascinating way to capture how we see ourselves, how others see us, and, perhaps, how we want others to see us.


Selfie in Green

Staring Contest

Staring Contest with a Selfie

This article looks at the selfie as an art form and coincides with the opening of the National #Selfie Portrait Gallery. [Why, I wonder, are so many of the sample images included with the article taken in public washrooms?]

I have been working on a series of selfies that challenge cultural ideas of beauty and aging [don’t get me started… I could probably sustain a year of blogging relating to those issues]

In the end, will the selfie be an art form at which we roll our eyes?

Eye Roll Selfie

Or will it prove to be an uncanny way to uncover something about the self that lurks behind the cheesy smile of snapshots and only emerges when you spend some quiet time alone pointing your phone at your face…

[The Daily Prompt: Mirror, Mirror]

20 responses to “Daily prompt: Mirror, Mirror – Felfies, Selfies, and the long tradition of the self portrait

  1. The mirror has little to do with how we experience ourselves, because the image we see is distorted. Our self-perception and the person in the mirror occasionally agree, but I believe that is the exception.

    I know someone whose worst enemy is the person who watches him brush his teeth, even though he believes it is someone else, someone who looks more like me. His misperception has affected my perception, as well as that of others. But I am no enemy to him.

    A friend of mine, an actor, once warned of becoming the villain in someone else’s movie. Is a villain the same as an enemy?


    • I read somewhere online that though one’s head in a mirror is about half (?) it’s actual size, we tend to assume what we are seeing in the mirror is ‘life size.’ So even if you aren’t looking into a funhouse mirror, you aren’t seeing a thing, really – you are seeing a reflection of a thing, which isn’t the same at all.

      As for the enemy vs villain matter, does it make a difference if we are seeing the villain’s reflected image? Or the villain in the flesh? My first thought is that a villain is trouble in a general sense, but an enemy has a particular target in mind. Which, as I think about it, isn’t actually very logical. Byt somehow I would take it more personally if someone was an enemy (had it in for me, or I had it in for them) as opposed to knowing a jerk who did terrible things… Sounds like I need to go and study some definitions!


  2. Mirrors do funny things to people, and animals. They catch the glance. We often respond. I check to see if I am looking happy. Or, am I scowling? A kid at school told me years ago that I looked angry or stern.

    Mirrors give us the chance to try out stuff. We put on clothes. Flex our muscles. Comb our hair differently, if we have any to comb.

    Mirrors also tell us we look good. They tell us we are sexy. They pat us on the emotional back and say ‘You look great! Now go have a good time.’

    Mirrors can also help us see into the thoughts of others. Ever looked through a two way mirror like they have on cop shows.


    • Various creatures around here have been rather confused by seeing their reflections… The oddest case was the year the male peacocks in the neighbourhood (over the years we’ve had a few feral birds hang out on our street) decided they had to do battle with the reflections they saw in shiny bumper and car mirrors. It got so bad that at one point, all the vehicles on the street had to be draped with bed sheets to protect them!

      True about the way mirrors give us a chance to try out new selves… the tilt of a hat or wrap of a scarf altered to accomplish a particular way of presenting ourselves…


    • An artist's interpretation of someone else's selfie... The artist’s interpretation of the blogger’s selfie… Dad’s comment, “You look like you have the plague.” To which I could have replied, “I think maybe that’s your interpretation of how I look.” But the fact is, his interpretation of my interpretation of a selfie resulted in an image of someone who doesn’t look particularly healthy. It’s kind of like a visual game of telegraph… If I now run this image through some photo editing filters…


  3. Interesting video and equally interesting commentary! It would be a very interesting social experiment to throw a bunch of people who have never met before into a room with blindfolds on and then have them rate each other on various scales – sense of humour, intelligence, attractiveness… and then repeat without the blindfolds. Would there be a correlation between the visual/external cues and the assessments made? Or, I guess since you couldn’t have a first impression twice if you’d already met the person while blindfolded, you could provide a wall of photos and then see how well people did in terms of matching visual appearance to traits gleaned through conversation…


    • In a sense that’s what some online forums do, when people protect their true identities and don’t use photos of themselves. In this case you wouldn’t necessarily know gender, race, or any other physical characteristics, but could come to know others well enough to love, hate, or anywhere in between. Their attractiveness is completely related to your emotional connection to them.


      • Very true… waaaaaaaay back when (before the internet existed as we know it today) I belonged to an email discussion group focussed on human connections with nature. Each week we had to go out and do some sort of assignment in the natural world and then we’d come back and email the group about our experience. The email conversations that followed were amazing and I was astonished at the time at how close our little group became. I never did get to find out what anybody looked like and it really didn’t matter…


  4. That would be an interesting experiment….would it be a more accurate representation of a person if you couldn’t see there face, do you think? Also I wonder about people who’ve had face transplants – how do they relate to themselves with a face that belonged to someone else?


    • Good question… I suspect maybe one would have fewer biases the fewer external cues you had to work with… I guess it would be like matching a descriptive paragraph to a photo – I would think that our biases and preconceived notions would make it tough to be very accurate, particularly when people have chosen non-traditional paths to follow. As for the matter of face transplants (or major reconstructive surgery), I would be really curious to learn more about what that experience would be like. There must be memoirs/documentaries/blogs out there that explore personal experiences of looking out from behind what might feel (at least initially) like a mask?


  5. Yes, there must be…you’ve got me curious now so it’s time to do some digging! Thanks for posting such a thought provoking post – not bad for a farmer! 🙂


  6. Fascinating! Love the ‘ideas of beauty and aging’ concept, and also the idea of blindfold/no blindfold assessment. Will look at selfies differently in future!


  7. The images and archetypes of the mirror provide us deep imagery. Thank you for holding the glass up for us to see. Awakening from a vegetative state required learning many auditory and visual processing lessons we take for granted as children. These are difficult lessons. We see with our brains, not our eyes, which are neuro-sensory extensions of our brains. Au fin, our brains are not necessarily the ultimate arbiters of conscious perception. Being alive entitles us to all the possibilities that are more than the sum of our parts. Hence, we heal. We awaken to a new day, without the passage of time. Anything is possible. – The Healing Garden gardener


  8. Love the different imaging toys we now have to play with. Selfies sometimes get a bad rap, but I like them. Have you seen this interesting study in self image from a Dove commercial back in 2013? I liked it so much, I RT it recently: @trying2rite For those of you (like me) who missed this the first time around. ow.ly/sJkbe #confident #beautiful #ht @GoddardMike
    and in case that link doesn’t work here’s the direct link to YouTube


    • Thanks for the link, Lissa – photoleaper also mentioned the Dove ad (scroll up to see the series of comments that followed)- the most amazing part of this to me was the skill of the artist being able to render such striking likenesses based on verbal descriptions! Meanwhile, Dad pointed me to this self portrait, done by Rembrandt no less… It accompanies an article in the Guardian that suggests this is the finest painting in Great Britain… Powerful, those selfies…


  9. Found this video about a woman who has had a face transplant. WARNING – Graphic images – Such a moving story and her resilience is incredible.


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