An Interactive Selfie Project, 2021

And a Short History of Selfies

By: - Jan 21, 2021

It all started recently, quite innocently, with a selfie email titled Same Old Hat. What a hoot! Charles owns a colorful Venetian jester’s hat, complete with six velvety peaks and 14 bells. It has been used on many occasions and here we commented comically on our present lives, during the pandemic, in the form of a selfie and 'almost selfie.' It became the impetus for this project. Attempting to bring visually many voices together, while expressing something about our current lives in a very small format, could become powerful!

With Same Old Hat we commented on the old year welcoming the new year, as life continues in relative isolation. We all live each day, trying to stay Covid-free. We hear and see daily numbers of the death-rate and Covid-19 infection-rate from around the nation and the world. We know they represent immeasurable pain and heartache! And we worry about family members and friends in quarantine through no fault of their own. We also know that vaccines are being administered in the USA and Europe since late December at a still slow-moving rate!

We continue to work on projects, communicate in new and known ways - for us more often via Facetime than Zoom. We create special dishes from time to time and turn a meal into a mini-event, while we nourish our body and soul or shall I simply say: our taste buds? (And yes, we hope not to lose our sense of taste!) And, we are attempting to stay fit and so we walk along a corridor, as per doctor’s order. Charles discovered Qigong with the help of a friend and master, and I continue to exercise regularly my 20-minute joints flexibility movements according to 1000-year-old Thai yoga, as well as Tai Chi.

I’m still wishing to walk outside the Eclipse Mill during winter days when there is little snow or ice on the ground. A waterfall of the Hoosic River beckons, 150 steps away past the parking lot along the river’s fence. At the top, I breath in life renewing energy of the water as it rushes down. Oh, what an elixir!

While we were deciding how to use our latest selfies, Charles declared that it was Barry Savenor, who invented the selfie more than 30 years ago. How could that be? The camera-phones were introduced in the USA in 2002 by Sanyo. However, Sharp already marketed such phones in Japan, quite expensively so, some years prior. In fact, Barry had for years, during the 1980s and 1990s, attended pop-culture events with a Polaroid camera in hand. He would make his way behind the stage or into the dressing-rooms of performers, often musicians, and cajole them into taking a Polaroid photo with him. It worked hundreds of times. Then, of course, he would also approach any person in the public eye, whom he encountered in Boston or anywhere, and charmed them as well. He collected them all!

By the time Charles showed Barry’s selfies, perhaps in the year 2000, in a gallery of the New England School of Art and Design, at Suffolk University in Boston, the long Corridor Gallery’s wall was covered with quite a collection. It was the first selfie exhibition, titled: Who’s That with Barry? Yet, Barry was miffed! He wanted his work exhibited in the main gallery, but could not convince his friend and director to offer him this more important space. The show was pure fun and a slew of his buddies celebrated him at the opening reception. – Who actually showed in the main gallery at that time? I do not remember.

And, what became of all those Polaroid selfies?  Have they along with Barry faded away? That is worth finding out. 

Since Sanyo’s 2002 camera phone introduction, other companies have offered to the public smartphones, such as the Samsung Galaxy, the google Pixel, one Plus 8, and Motorola Edge Plus. We are still iPhone users. Steve Jobs introduced the first iPhone in 2007, and we started taking photos with our phones a few years later. I remember photographing excitedly a hundred times, with my daughter Olivia in tow – or was it the other way around (?) - the newly opened African American Museum of History and Culture, in Washington, D.C. in 2016. What an exhilarating experience, which I, of course, had to share with our Berkshire Fine Arts readers. (I also remember the slow pace of transferring each photo from my iPhone separately to Photoshop.)

Selfies and smart phones have become a regular occurrence during large gatherings of any kind. We well remember the Beijing (2008) and London Olympics (2012) opening celebrations with all Nations parading into the stadium. The cameras flashed a thousand times, held up high above the crowd and participants taking selfies of themselves and each other. Every-one has become a photographer. And, our teen-age grand-daughters are busy selfie-takers like many of their classmates and contemporaries!

On a somber note: Even on January 6, this year, during the Washington D. C.’s breach of the Capitol, smart phones could be seen held above heads, while the mob was still outside! Once inside the Capitol building, CNN showed a selfie-video by a rioter, who was documenting himself and thus, producing evidence of his crime. Newly released videos show criminals inside the Senate Chamber photographing documents with their cell-phones and a lone Capitol police officer appealing to them to leave, which the intruders finally did. “Where are they, where are they,” can be overheard. A reference to members of Congress. 

Then, we were looking forward to the President Biden and Vice-President Harris inaugurations with trepidation! Washington, D. C., overprotected by police and military, and the world experienced much reduced and restricted inauguration proceedings on January 20th.  The day was marked by thoughtful and  traditional celebrations.

Now, life continues in every community everywhere. Our 2021 collaborative selfie project has attracted a wide variety of participants from near and far, for which we are very thankful. It would not have taken off without the many thoughtful contributions. Many hand-held camera/phone selfies have a tentative quality which I find refreshing.

Here's Act 1:

Founding Director of TransCultural Exchange, Mary Sherman, Boston, Massachusetts, sent promptly two screen shots of the 2020 virtual project Hello World, showing the Zoom-Launch on June, 21, 2020. “International artists invited viewers to tour their worlds and artworks with gestures of kindness to offer an antidote to the rising nationalism, discrimination and other extremist tendencies that often occur when people feel scared, stressed and alone,” according to Sherman. In October the same Zoom video was projected outdoors on the facade of the History Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovinia in Sarajevo.

Approximately 300 artists from sixty countries and nearly every continent participated in Hallo World, which can be seen on the TransCultural Exchange (TCE) website. The next international conference by TCE is scheduled for 2022 in Boston, MA.  Sherman’s and TCE’s connections are indeed global!

Todd Siler from Denver, Colorado, wrote: ”While reflecting on these turbulent times, let’s keep our hearts-n-minds. Hopefully, we’ll rise above the rage-n-chaos that afflict our future. We’ll need to, if we care to create a more peaceful and healthier world that’s sustainable.”

And Dieter Jung, Berlin, Germany, suggested: "Looking Forward: thinking about shaping our worlds for a more human, civilized and healthy planet earth."

Pennie Brantley is commenting on her selfies: “Post surgery, out of cast and into splint, hoping to get back to my Covid painting behind me eventually! …and, view of my screwed together wrist. No wonder it hurts!”

Ellen Croibier and husband Peter Levine: “Peter and I made the most of the current situation by spending the (New Year’s) night at home, just the two of us sharing a glass of Martinelli sparkling cider in our hand-painted champagne glasses from 2000.”

Diane Sawyer: “I took some time away from my studio practice yesterday to make a new mask. To me, it symbolizes coping with the limitations and changed priorities caused by the pandemic.”

Ann Salk Rosenberg has been the hardest working artist during this Covid-year that I know. She taught herself Photoshop and transferred her 35 paintings, titled: Genesis. The paintings took five years to finish.  She ends her vision of Genesis as follows: “Evolution: A higher power created the heavens and the earth, but placed the future in the hands of man. Where will we take this monumental responsibility? The possibilities are infinite.”

However, Ken Kantor, who lives in San Francisco, California, looks at 2021 much less hopefully. I asked him, for what reason he owned the gear that he is dressed in while taking a selfie? His response: “It was kind of spontaneous and uncalculated, but certainly a satirical comment on what Americans have to go through to live life these days. (I originally titled it Grocery Shopping.) With the exception of the ‘tactical’ vest, that’s just stuff I had around the house and workshop. Just before the 2016 election, I started to train in emergency response, community organization, basic medical, firearms and tactics, etc. It was clear that fascism and racism were reemerging in the US, and I became dedicated to fighting that. It’s much of how I spend my time now.” –  These are words to take in!

Many short comments accompany the selfies that became this project and the array of visual comments has turned it into a human kaleidoscope.

Still, here’s our invitation to any reader, who has become inspired by this colorful mosaic of our current lives: You are welcome to email us a selfie. Do you have an interesting point of view to add, or, would you just like to become a new participant in this 2021 Selfie Project? Your imagination is the limit!

Act 2:

Since the first posting of the Interactive Selfie Project, 2021, 22 new selfies have been added, which brings it to a total of 99! Participants continue to find ways to express their individual circumstances during the pandemic. Laura Dumouchel and Susan Hall submitted mini-stories with specific titles, such as we had received a few during Act 1. Participants have thought carefully, while choosing to snap a photo, or sending us an image taken long before the expression 'selfie' was coined in the Twenty-First Century. 

Steve Nelson submitted an intriguing 1971 photograph of himself with his young wife Jan and a TV monitor. Take a good look it is a triple photograph! Then, I also remember a few photos of myself and my two brothers that we had taken for a Christmas present for our mother, in perhaps 1960, which would qualify for 'selfies.' Surely, many participants and readers can think of their own selfie-like hard copy photos of yester-years.

Every selfie that has been submitted is a treasure, highlighting the times we live in. We are grateful to all participants. And, actually, there may even be an Act 3. We have already received photo number 100!

Act 3:

Earlier I wrote about the selfies my brothers and I had made in the 1960s and here is a selfie of Charles in the 1950s.

Then, again, here is a mini-story by Wendy James, who wrote the following to accompany her images: “Somehow the time is passing so quickly. We had been involved with "Making Strides" through our doctor's office, meeting twice a week to walk a mile around Arlington Park, Vermont. The weather has changed so our meetings are paused.

I fell in love with the simple park and the decaying trees which have a great beauty.  They gave me permission to paint some of the trees and add stones in their many holes.  Everything came from the park with stones from the river. I wanted to be very discreet and leave it as a natural park. I delighted in the process and with warmer weather I may continue the dabbling.”

And, Sydney Rockefeller submitted another selfie stand-in: “There is this lone "tree" on Ocean Drive (Acadia National Park) and I have photographed it many times. So I added eyes and drooping breasts (use your imagination). It does look a bit like a ghost…”

From her grandmother, Judy Johnson,  I learned that Jeynaba, who is studying Spanish in Ecuador,  had to race to the airport in early March 2020 to get out before the airports closed to international travelers. Just one of the Covid-pandemic’s ‘side effects’ world-wide - travel restrictions.

Throughout the project, surprising images have been submitted by family members, friends, neighbors, acquaintances and anybody, who just happen to hear or read about the project and decided to take part in the Participatory Selfie Project, 2021. Everyone was invited to add to the visual tapestry of life during the pandemic 0f 2020/21 (and from other years and decades). 130 images are now part of this project and we are deeply grateful to each and every participant.