Saturday, 04 October 2014 00:14

Taking Back the Selfie

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As Word’s selfie competition heats up, we bring you a brief history of this much-maligned art form


It’s safe to say that selfies have jumped the shark. There’s a sitcom titled Selfie debuting on American television this fall. It was Oxford English Dictionary’s ‘Word of the Year’ for 2013. Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus have forsaken promising pop careers to focus on the discipline (kidding!). Sellotape selfies are things. Selfies are the rare thing that’s become embedded in the mainstream, but hasn’t yet been abandoned by the kids.


So maybe we’re past the backlash, and can take a look at the phenomenon honestly. Selfies aren’t a new thing — they used to be called ‘self-portraits’ — but front-facing camera phones and 24/7 access to social media are. Criticisms of selfies are really criticisms of the anxieties of our age — technological oversaturation, body image concerns.


American art critic Jerry Saltz has written a pop critique of the form, with some interesting conclusions:


When it is not just PR, though, it is a powerful, instantaneous ironic interaction that has intensity, intimacy and strangeness... Fascinatingly, the genre wasn’t created by artists. Selfies come from all of us; they are a folk art that is already expanding the language and lexicon of photography. Selfies are a photography of modern life — not that academics or curators are paying much attention to them. They will, though: in a hundred years, the mass of selfies will be an incredible record of the fine details of everyday life. Imagine what we could see if we had millions of these from the streets of imperial Rome.


There’s something here, something powerful and untapped. And it’s something very relevant to Vietnam, linked by that one lonely underwater broadband cable to the popular currents of global culture.


The Selfie Face-Off


You might have heard that Word is hosting a selfie competition — The Selfie Face-Off — and we’re looking for a few good photographers.


We pride ourselves on the photos published in these pages, but it’s more than quality we’re after. It’s expression, it’s giving people a place to show off a part of themselves that sometimes doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. And that recognition should extend to all people, not just those with camera skills who know how to work the appropriate media networks. You know, as long as it’s good.


And we believe there’s something here, something raw and sincere and innocent about it, something that captures the best of the expressive arts.
Traditional media (like us) have come under fire in recent years for being too inflexible, for losing touch with the way people communicate. But there’s something good about structure, about a more orthodox forum for words and pictures that too often get lost in the deluge.


With this competition, we think we’ve realised our mission in life — and it’s bold, no doubt. But with your help, we really think we can legitimise the selfie.

The Word

Yes, that's us! Word Vietnam. And here's our tagline: Everything you need to know about Vietnam and a little bit more. Any comments, drop us a line on

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