From self portrait to selfie
We constantly look at ourselves in the mirror—from the moment we as babies smile and get a response until we look in the mirror in the morning when we get up, compare ourselves with others' achievements in competitions or in our daily routines. Our understanding of ourselves is in the background of the society we live in and the people we see around us, associate with, or look up to. At the same time, becoming familiar with oneself is an important part of the process of maturing into an independent person in community with others.
The exhibition explores the self-portrait and contemporary selfie-culture. Where are the differences apparent? What do photographic self-presentations reflect about the societies they arise in and about us as individuals?
First and foremost the exhibition is an excitingly interactive presentation of well-known photographers and artists, normal people's pictures of themselves, and research on the phenomenon of the selfie in recent times. There will also be the opportunity to take selfies, use a fine old-time automated photo booth, and draw portraits of yourself.
The story of Narcissus is widely known. He fell so deeply in love with his own image in the water that he drowned in it. This story from Greek mythology is several thousand years old. The fate of Narcissus is extreme, but we can see examples of it in real life today. The story of Narcissus shows that the theme has been perpetually fascinating, probably in the majority of cultures.
Before photography saw the light of day, portraits were painted, drawn, or sculpted. They were usually either representations of power or part of galleries of ancestors. The first photographic portraits were undoubtedly influenced by painting and the increasing interest in caricatures in the 1700s and 1800s. Innovation in the photographic portrait involved the equal cooperation it required from photographer and model. The model posed with his or her given appearance for better or worse, and the photographer had to make the best of it.
Curating the exhibition is senior curator Hanne Holm-Johnsen in collaboration with researcher Lin Prøitz and visual artist Kristoffer Eliassen. They will publish simultaneously the e-book SELVBILDE – fra selvportrett til #selfie with Universitetsforlaget AS [The University Press].
A two-day conference will also be held 1-2 October: SELF/IMAGE/PUBLIC at Fritt Ord's locale in Oslo and at the Preus Museum in Horten.
The word Selfie was used for the first time in 2002. Eleven years later, in 2013, it was called "Word of the year" by the Oxford Dictionary.
Preus Museum, as the national museum of photography, has the responsibility to convey what goes on within the photographic field. The museum’s task is to explain to the public how photography is used, but the museum has also an obligation to be a visible player in contemporary life.
Millions of people take selfies every day, primarily young people in secure situations as in the boys' room, at school, or on vacation—but also in unsafe circumstances such as when seeking safety or refuge. The project «On a trip», which the Preus Museum initiated in January when refugees taking photographs arrived in Norway, is a contemporary documentation project as part of the exhibition project #Me: From Self-portrait to Selfie. It is a collecting and presenting of portraits and selfies taken by refugees and asylum seekers on their way between their homeland and Norway. The contributors come from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and lived in an emergency refugee camp not far from the museum.
But also Norwegians go on trips – on holidays or to visit family and friends. As a result, we see that the two groups cross each other’s path. Therefore, the beaches that Norwegians associate with holidays and swimming, are dangerous crossings and possible drowning for the refugees. It’s hard to put oneself into another’s situation, when it is so diametrically different from one’s own. Photographs give us a possibility to understand and become familiar with – but the selfie is special. We meet another person immediately. A close-up shared instantly. Perhaps we can see some of the circumstances in the background, but without the narrative it remains just a meeting. But is that «just»?
In the heads of many Norwegians «refugees» are an undefined, threatening group. The media show overfilled boats, refugee camps, people sleeping on the street – often without faces. The photographs convey helpless people that requires something of us. These portraits and selfies, on the other hand, tell another story. They let us meet people who are strong, who take their lives in their own hands, who believe in protection and a possible good life away from war and undemocratic societies. These photographs bear message that we are all people with the same dream of a good life in peace and security.
The project is supported by Fritt Ord (the Freedom of Expression Foundation) and has given the museum an invaluable collection of up-to-the-minute contemporary photographs.