Photography has been on a long journey since its invention in the 19th century. Back then exposures could take as long as ten minutes, requiring their subjects to stand perfectly still; a lengthy posing period, the strain of which is partly responsible for the Victorian reputation for being distinctly po-faced. Then the twentieth century rolled around and with it colour, movement and photographers who were no longer simply practitioners but artists in their own right, cataloguing world history, passing fashions, global movements and personal despair with an immediacy and realism denied to even the most gifted wielders of pen, pencil or brush. But one tradition remained, indeed blossomed, with the advent of instant imaging technology – the self portrait. But in 2013, it’s got a new name. In our Instagramming, hyper-solarised, ultra connected world, the self-portrait is now dubbed the #selfie.
"In our Instagramming, hyper-solarized, ultra connected world, the self-portrait is now dubbed the #selfie"
Selfies are everywhere, and there is no evidence of them going away. As twitter groans under the weight of celebrity twit-pics and the world hurrumphs about a burgeoning mania of self-obsession, newspapers report that the British alone upload more than 35 million self portraits a month. Your friends are doing them, your boss is doing them, even your icons are doing them. Last week, Prince heralded his return to Twitter with a typically enigmatic self-portrait which, when clicked on by avid fans, turned out to be a few wisps of smoke. Some time ago David Bowie toyed with the form in what appears to be a hotel bathroom – the most stylish man in music revealed sporting a white towelling robe and uncharacteristically unkempt hair. And December saw Japanese astronaut Aki Hoshide take arguably the best selfie of all time, on a spacewalk outside the International Space Station, incorporating the sun, the earth, two robot arms and the infinite darkness.
Revelatory, controllable, humorous and personal – the selfie is a way to capture your best side, get recklessly profligate with hashtags and imply a sense of humour, all at the proverbial press of a button. But at AnOther we want to take a step back from the ubiquitous world of #nofilter and the-art-of-looking-down that is cramming up our newsfeeds and celebrate the photographers who defy the banality of the 2013 selfie with their pre-Instagram versions. From Helmut Newton naked in a hospital bathroom, seemingly having just escaped from his doctors, and Vivian Maier experimenting in a hall of mirrors, to Cecil Beaton mucking about with a floorbound Mick Jagger and the Kennedy family radiating holiday chic in a snap from 1954, these shots exude style and elan, humour and class. All taken using film cameras, they show their creators laughing, mischevious, blank-faced, gleeful or accompanied by famous friends; yet vitally all were taken without the luxury of myriad deletable attempts. And it is in this, as one of a kind shots, that they are so important, reminding us that the pictures we remember and treasure the most are the ones we take without the luxury of knowing how they will turn out.
Text by Tish Wrigley
Photographic research by Beth Middlecoat