Picture Me

For months, I’ve been meaning to blog about a New York Times story from—get this—February. But I wanted to include a self-portrait of my wife, which meant scanning and that was something I never seemed to get around to. Until today, while we waited on Bun Bun; she was sick and with the local vet.

The Times story, “Here I Am Taking My Own Picture“, is a hoot. 

Summing up the self-portraiture trend, Times reporter Alex Williams writes:

‘It’s a huge phenomenon’, said Matt Polazzo, the coordinator of student affairs at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, referring to the compulsive habit of teenagers to snap everything in their lives, especially self-portraits. ‘Just yesterday I had a girl sitting on the couch in my office’, he said. ‘She took out her cellphone and said, ‘Here, I’m going to show you a picture of my best friend,’ snapped a picture of herself and showed it to me, all in one fluid motion’.

The call to self-portraiture is hard to resist. The aforementioned cell phone beckons for sure, as do new computers from Apple and Sony, which sport built-in Webcams. During setup, new Apple iMacs, MacBooks or MacBook Pros offer the user to snap a self-portrait. And Apple’s Photo Booth software makes refreshing and caricaturizing those portraits easy.

My question: Will kids (and grownups) sloth off instant messaging avatars for the real thing, meaning themselves? I think so, although isn’t there something kind of narcissistic about it? On the other hand, more people do need to love themselves.

The Times story sees self-portraiture as more a phenomenon of the young: “Psychologists and others who study teenagers say the digital self-portraiture is an extension of behavior typical of the young, like trying on different identities, which earlier generations might have expressed through clothing and hairstyles”.

But there is something decidedly cultural about the trend, according to the Times:

‘When I was a kid I didn’t want my picture taken’, said Jim Taylor, a trend consultant at the Harrison Group in Waterbury, Conn. ‘But these kids are fabulous self-marketers’.

‘Self-branding is a big deal for kids, and self-produced entertainment is a big deal’, Mr. Taylor said…There’s always a theatrical quality to their shots’, Mr. Taylor said. ‘Kids love melancholy and sadness. There is lots of obvious symbolism about whether they see themselves as an actress, a model, a Christ figure or a Hamlet’.

I must admit that my daughter frequently changes her IM buddy icon, using her MacBook’s built-in Webcam. And she shoots videos of herself, too, adjusting the audio and even adding sound effects.

C’mon, self-portraits aren’t new; art historians know this fact well. Self-portraiture may be easier because of technology and the pictures more changeable, but I don’t really agree with the Times experts on this one, with respect to currency, anyway. Their observations are sensible, but they’re also applicable to other generations.

My wife’s self-portrait is good example, seeing as how it’s some years old. I asked my wife why she took the self-portrait. Because she could and “it was fun”, she said.

The self-portrait is one of my two most favorite pictures of her. She is 21 in the photo—and quite beautiful, I must say.

Photo Credit: Anne Wilcox

Editor’s Note: On July 28, 2017, this post was recovered, using Archive.org Wayback Machine, from a snapshot of joewilcox.com during 2006, when months of content was lost while changing blogging systems and webhosts. Date and timestamps are authentic.