Saloni Dahake says that while most of her selfies are byproducts of boredom, they all mean something. “People are more than the clothes they wear, books they read or movies they watch,” says the 22-year-old stylist who likes to put up selfies on her Facebook page, “It’s about their philosophy of life. My seflies are about different traits of me. They are shot differently and they are about my prized possessions. They are me.”
One of Dahake’s selfies, self-shot on a webcam, has been taken with the camera in shutter mode, which allows a play with light as the shutter stays open for longer than usual. It creates a picture that merges two different frames of her face. Another selfie, shot in a bathroom at a party where everyone was smoking, has cigarette smoke wafting over her face. Yet another, shot from above, showcases the big bindi on her forehead. She has many selfies with her cat as well, her current obsession.
“I don’t like the word ‘selfie’ because I feel it doesn’t justify what I do,” she says, “I never hashtag [denoted by # to group together similar pictures] my pictures for the same reason. It’s not just about pouting at the camera at a party. It’s artistic, it’s about doing something differently, and it’s about showing the world who you really are. It’s about inspiration, it’s not fake.”
According to Wikipedia, ‘selfie’ was coined by Jim Krause, an American photographer and logo designer who has worked with Microsoft and Kodak, in 2005; Time magazine called it a top buzzword in 2012; and it found place in the online Oxford English Dictionary this year. Though selfies are a rage of the cellphone and social media era, they have arguably been around since the invention of cameras with self timers. It could even be said that the acclaimed painter Frieda Kahlo, known for her self-portraits, was a selfie-taker. It’s just that self-portraiture as a genre of art was once the preserve of trained artists. Ever since Facebook, Instagram and phone cameras, it has become commonplace. Great hair day? Take a selfie. Butt looks great in a bikini? Take a ‘belfie’. Boyfriend looks like Brad Pitt? Got a cat with a mood swing? Bored and want to take a picture of that pimple on your nose? Take a selfie. As photographer and selfienthusiast Ishaan Nair says, “It’s always about projecting an image to someone else—it’s about you making your life good. But the sad thing is that real life never matches up.”
Nair, 28, was in Leh recently. His bathroom had a window that overlooked an orchard. “I looked at it and was like, ‘I wish I was with someone beautiful, so that I could take a picture.’ Then I said to myself, ‘I am pretty beautiful’.” And so he propped his camera on some tissue boxes by the bathroom sink and took a series of selfies. “It is about vanity. It’s about showcasing the best side of you as you know your face best. My selfies or self portraits are about my idea of the world and me in the world. My work always has undertones of sexuality, sensuality and duality, so I take many semi-nudes and nudes as well. It’s about me expressing myself.”
He remembers a time earlier this year, when work was not going all that well (he is a fashion photographer), that he would scroll through Instagram and look at people’s ‘supposedly’ fabulous lives. “I would tell my girlfriend, ‘Everyone is working, everyone is having fun.’ And then she’d be like, ‘Why would you think that? That’s just a picture from one second of their lives. Even if they are sitting with a cocktail on a beach, they are going to work in an auto on Monday to a really shitty office.’ Everything looks good [through] a filter. It has made us sadder, as our Facebook accounts or Insta accounts make our life look better than it actually is.” Selfies, nonetheless, are a way of reaching out to the world, he feels, and that could always help someone. “If you put an emotional picture where you look sad, someone will call and say, ‘Hey, I saw your Insta… all good?’ Maybe you just need that.”
The selfie also has the stamp of celebrity approval. Miley Cyrus likes to take them naked and with her tongue out, Rihanna likes to flaunt her red lips and assets as she looks straight into the lens, Kim Kardashian likes to keep it simple and just pout, Justin Bieber likes to look all dreamy, Nicki Minaj is a riot and doesn’t hold back on the expressions, and Lena Dunham is all about self-deprecatory humour (she shows us a stained shirt and quips about her inability to wear nice clothes). Here in India, Sonam Kapoor loves to give people a peep into her life with selfies that include her without make-up and doing everyday things like Pilates, and Priyanka Chopra likes taking pictures of herself as she travels the world as a pop star.
The art of taking a selfie is subjective: you can do whatever you want since it’s about you as the centre of attention. There is the sexy selfie, with clothing optional, and looking like you’ve just orgasmed, a necessity. There is the my-life-is-better-than-yours selfie, which must include lots of friends, glasses of wine and a party/beach/mountain/yacht. Then there are the subtle selfies, like the ones taken after you’ve just woken up that let the world know you are beautiful at a moment they look like monsters. And, of course, the not-so-subtle selfies, like the ones taken at the gym with your flat stomach or six-pack doing all the talking.
Though Nair calls the selfie a vain pursuit that can leave you unhappier, there are many who believe it’s a way of making yourself feel beautiful. Freelance stylist Josie Paris’ Facebook picture shows her and her bright red hair gazing at the camera. She looks happy and content. “I feel sexy,” she says. And when her pictures online get ‘likes’ and comments, she feels validated. “I actually feel like I am a powerful woman. A ‘like’ on my picture gives me the boost I need.” She takes around five selfies a day and says that she has never thought it has made her vain. “It just makes me love myself.”
Publicist Parikshat N Wadhwani’s Insta account is full of selfies. We spot one that he took early in the morning in front of a mirror. “There was great light falling on my face, so I said ‘why not?’ I took a picture, Insta collaged it [it has a double image] and put it up. My selfies are all about my moods… if I am sad, happy. They showcase my emotions.”
Most of his selfies are impromptu, says Wadhwani. As he travels down a lift from the 31st floor of a skyscraper after a meeting, for example, he might while away time by checking himself out and taking selfies on his phone. “There is a fine line between trying too hard and being cool about it,” he says, “For me, it’s all about confidence.” His love of the seflie has a simple explanation: “Sixty years from now, I will look back at my Facebook account and know exactly what I felt at that minute. It’s a memory, isn’t it?”