Selfie Experiments

The following experiments are designed to encourage you to get to know some famous (and not so famous) examples of self-portraits in art and photography and to use them to help you create your own examples. Rather than relying on the current, limited, stock of poses and facial expressions that tend to dominate Selfie culture, these experiments will hopefully broaden your repertoire and make your Selfies stand out from the crowd!

You are to recreate your own versions of these experiments. Some will need you to prepare materials and/or complete them at home/outside of school.

REMEMBER to use the photo elements to create strong compositions [line, colour, value, shape, pattern]. Also editing your images can improve their overall appearance [i suggest Snapseed as an editor]

Selfie Experiment #1: The Reflected Selfie

This article provides a useful starting point for reflecting (see what I did there?) on the mirror Selfie. Once you've had a look at some examples, experiment with your own Reflected Selfies. Try using a range of reflective surfaces (not just mirrors). What happens when you choose a shop window, curved surfaces or a sequence of mirrors, for example? Will you look straight into the reflective surface or to one side? Will you include your phone/camera or hold it out of the way?

Florence Henri - Self-portrait in mirror, 1928
Ilse Bing - Self-Portrait with Leica, 1931
Ralph Eugene Meatyard - Untitled (Self-Portrait with Camera and Guitar), 1955
Lee Friedlander - Route 9W, New York, 1969
Danny Lyon - Self-Portrait, New York City, 1969

Selfie Experiment #2: The Disguised Selfie

There are lots of famous self-portraits from the history of art but this is a favourite. Courbet shows himself in a heightened state of emotion, staring straight out at the viewer, clutching at his hair. The artist is known to have suffered from bouts of depression and he certainly faced financial hardship but there is also an element of play-acting in this painting. Courbet is dramatising his feelings in a painting which would have taken many hours to complete. He has deliberately chosen the composition, dramatic lighting effects and strange colours to suggest the idea of desperation. What looks like a momentary gesture of panic has, in fact, been carefully stage-managed.

Gustave Courbet - The Desperate Man (Self-portrait), 1843-45

Artists and photographers have always enjoyed playing with the image of themselves, experimenting with costumes, make-up, poses and lighting to transform themselves into a wide range of characters. Look at the examples below and research those you find interesting. Attempt your own experiments with the Disguised Selfie. Could you change your gender, become a character from a favourite film, or become a famous work of art?

Cindy Sherman - Untitled Film Still #14, 1978
Alec Soth - 'unselfie' from the series Broken Manual, 2009
Andy Warhol - Self-portrait in drag, 1981
Yasumasa Morimura An Inner Dialogue with Frida Kahlo (Hand-shaped Earring), 2001
Tarek Al Ghoussein - Untitled 2, 2003
Nina Katchadourian - from Lavatory self-portraits in the Flemish style, 2010 (ongoing)

Selfie Experiment #3: The Obscured Selfie

Associated with the Disguised Selfie, there are several examples of photographic Selfies in which the subject's face is obscured. This effect is a special feature of photography that doesn't feature so much in painting. The camera flattens three dimensional space so that something in the foreground can appear to be on the same level as something else in the background. Of course, some of the obscuring can be done after the fact. Look at these examples and then experiment with making your own Obscured Selfies.

Yayoi Kusama - Self-portrait, 1966
Richard Hamilton - Self-portrait with red, 1998
Delaney Allen - Hidden self-portrait, 2011
Edu Monteiro - Autorretrato Sensorial series

Selfie Experiment #4: The Photobooth Selfie

The first commercially successful photobooth appeared on Broadway in New York in 1925. It provided a way for ordinary people to create a sequence of self-portraits for very little money. One remarkable example of this is the work of Lee Gody, a homeless woman from Chicago, who used photobooths to make creative self-portraits throughout her life. More recently, Japanese artist, Tomoko Sawada, has used the idea of the photobooth to explore her identity, inventing over 400 different visual personas over several weeks. There are a number of mobile apps, like Incredibooth, that reproduce the effect of the automated strip of self-portraits. Experiment with your own photobooth style self-portraits exploring a variety of ​physical appearance and dress, facial characteristics and expressions.

Yves Tanguy - Photomaton, Paris, 1928.
Lee Gody - Photobooth self-portrait
Andy Warhol - Self-portrait, 1963-4
Tomoko Sawada - ID400 (detail)

Selfie Experiment #5: The Eyes Closed Selfie

A face with eyes closed seems unusually vulnerable. We can see the subject but they can't see us. Why are their eyes closed? Is the person blinking, are they thinking, sleeping, dreaming..? A self-portrait with eyes closed is a peculiar kind of photograph. It might suggest a particular state of mind - a withdrawing from the business of looking - in order to occupy a more private space. These images can be both captivating and alienating simultaneously. Experiment with making your own Eyes Closed Selfies, use an interesting location for your background.

Gavin Turk - Portrait of Something I’ll Never See
Claude Cahun - Autoportrait, 1939
Henry Fitz Jr - Self-Portrait with Eyes Closed, 1939
Andy Warhol - Self-portrait with eyes closed, 1979

Selfie Experiment #6: The Shadow Selfie

A shadow is like a photograph of ourselves, an image made by light (and the absence of it). Photographers are particularly sensitive to effects of light and so have long been interested in their own shadows. Experiment with your own Shadow Selfies, exploring a variety of effects and compositions.

André Kertész - Self-portrait, Paris, 1927
Lee Friedlander - New York, 1966
Daido Moriyama - Self-portrait with dogs, 1997
Vivian Maier, 1975

Selfie Experiment #7: The Feet Selfie

Most Selfies concentrate on the face but why can't a Selfie represent another part of the anatomy? Take a look at these unusual self-portraits and experiment with your own Feet Selfies. You could use your feet and someone else's head. Or, if you're really clever, you could try to get a foreshortened version of your own face and feet into the same photo, like Harry Callahan.

Kenneth Josephson - Self-portrait, 1976

Selfie Experiment #8: The Surreal Selfie

The Surrealists of the 1920s and 30s used the word to suggest the illogical world of dreams and the marvellous in the everyday. Do a bit of research about Surrealism and then experiment with making your own Surreal Selfies. You might also need to brush up on your Photopea skills...!

Herbert Bayer - Self-portrait, 1932
Brian Oldham - Self-portrait with butterflies
Max Rive - Self-portrait

Selfie Experiment #9: The Scanner Selfie

Scanners are special image capturing devices. Rather than capturing the image in one go they move slowly across a glass plate, scanning whatever is placed on it is a sequence of lines which are then stitched back together at the end of the process. Some artists have experimented with Scanography to create unusual self-portraits. Keeping still during the process produces a relatively conventional image. The real fun comes when you move as the machine scans the surface. This involves a fair amount of chance. Experiment with your own Scanner Selfies [photocopier - keep eyes closed]

Selfie Experiment #10: The Mask Selfie

Masks are specific kinds of disguise. Wearing masks is a feature of some theatre traditions. Masks enable the wearer to adopt another persona, to look and act in ways not necessarily like their everyday selves. Take a look at these examples (some of them are very strange) and attempt your own Mask Selfies. How can you use your face to hide your face?

Selfie Experiment #11: The Distorted Selfie

Several photographers have enjoyed using their equipment incorrectly to achieve unusual effects. Moving a camera (and subject) during exposure can produce some strange distortions. More recently, people have discovered that playing with the panorama function on a mobile phone can reveal glitches. It is possible to create a PanoSelfie, but much more fun to do it incorrectly. Attempt your own versions.

Selfie Experiment #12: The moods Selfie

Create a grid of 16 mood portraits by photographing different moods from the list. compose them in a grid of 4 rows x 4 columns converted to B&W. This can be done using pic collage or googe doc - ensure they are all the same size, rotation and in a symmetrical grid.

Your photos should be shot at close distance [headshot style] and you need to stay in the same place for all of your photos [glue your feet to the spot!]. They should all be of the same person in the same outfit. shoot more then 16 and choose the best!

Some other ideas for disrupting Selfie conventions:

  • The Deadpan Selfie - take a series of Selfies in which you look at the camera with a completely deadpan, unemotional, expressionless face.

  • The Unusual Pet Selfie - take a series of Selfies with slugs, worms, pigeons and other 'pets' which you adopt momentarily for the purposes of the picture.

  • The Upside Down Selfie - take a series of Selfies either with your head upside down or, in the normal way but making sure you rotate the photograph by 180 degrees before publishing it.

In what other ways can you deliberately play with the 'rules' of taking Selfies, undermining and/or challenging them?

Don't forget to tag your best Selfies on Instagram with #selfiepedagogy and check out other artists work on this tag