This piece was first published in #TheFutureByDesign. Click here to download the publication with insights from leading marketing, creative, technology and advertising minds.
Selfies are like milk, or a milk moustache. They’re the bread and butter — the daily staple — of this social media age. If you want to know how obsessed we are with selfies, just take a look at the stats. Research from TechInfographics.com reveals that well over 1 million selfies are taken a day. Most selfies are shared on Facebook [48% of all selfies shared], with Twitter next in line. But are selfies about self-love or narcissism?
“Some people might see selfies as a self-loving movement, but I see the selfie movement differently,” says Jozi-based photographer, Lebz Skywalker. “I think people are looking inwards,” he says.
“People think selfies are a recent trend, but really this isn’t a new phenomenon. Before photography was invented people were making their own portraits – they hired painters or sketch artists to make images or portraits of themselves. As soon as people could draw they’ve been making images of themselves, or paying others to do this,” the photographer says. “Look at the Middle Ages, all the kings and queens wanted good images of themselves,” he adds.
Skywalker believes there’s a healing aspect to the selfie mania. “If you can look at yourself in the mirror and be happy with what you see it is a good thing. Surely people who are comfortable with themselves are more integrated, or can be more integrated?” he asks.
The photographer often does research when he’s doing shoots – which often involves taking upmarket clothing brands into the townships and shooting young people wearing them – disrupting the notion that luxury brands are only for the elite and the moneyed. “I do informal research on selfies all the time. When I ask people why they take selfies, they respond that this is about a daily ritual. In Soweto teen girls tell me they wake up, get ready for school, but before they go out into the world they will take a really good selfie. They will bask in the light and treasure this moment as a ritual for the rest of the day. It is a ritualistic process that sets their self-worth and their mood for the day. This is what has made me start seeing selfies in a completely different light – as an affirming movement.”
Skywalker says traditional photographers have advised him not to take photographs of himself. “But then I ask why do we have self-timers on cameras?” Skywalker laughs. “You have the skill and time to do this, so why not? Particularly given technology like Instagram that globally connects humans across the world through a single platform with a single vision – sharing images, including images of oneself. This should be used as a prototype platform where people can view each other without prejudice,” he says.
“Through Instagram one can check out good images and see how people live on the other side of the world. It is about documenting life. This is the future — documenting our lives and making visual history as we go, instead of waiting for someone else to do this for us. The power of a smartphone lies not just in the calls one can make — it is a powerful tool in the workplace, in our daily lives to show, to create, to share,” Skywalker says. “If we fight it, we are building a barrier to the next step of technology which is humanising it. Instead of technology separating us by humanising it we use technology to connect.”
About Lebz Skywalker
See more of Lebz Skywalker’s work online at: http://www.lebzskywalker.co.za/
Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @lebzskywalker