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The history and art of the selfie

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By Lisa Nicklanovich; photos by Taylor Wiebold

Photo of Denver Selfie Museum

At the Denver [pop-up] Selfie Museum, they provide the backdrops and all you have to do is bring your phone for a selfie adventure.

The selfie has changed how we communicate with each other, and it is ubiquitous. The idea of taking a photo of yourself is not new, but where did the term selfie come from, and how did we come to live in a world where selfies are such a huge part of our culture?

The term “selfie” seems to have been used for the first time by an Australian university student. In 2002, he posted a photograph in a public forum seeking advice about stitches in his lips. His post ended with “….and sorry about the focus, it was a selfie.”

In 2013, the word selfie became the Oxford English Dictionary’s much-coveted word of the year, which has the following entry for the word: “A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.” Facebook, Instagram and especially Snapchat became platforms to share the selfie with friends and friends of friends.

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Actress and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres shared the selfie of all selfies as the host of the 2014 Academy Awards. The record-breaking selfie with, as you may recall, many stars was shared more than two million times before the ceremony was over and caused Twitter to collapse for a short time.

In 2015, the selfie stick was invented, which allowed for more background and additional people to be included in the composition. Quite controversial due to its safety concerns and the inconvenience the product caused to others, the selfie stick has been banned in a number of venues. Despite being dubbed the “narcisstick” in 2015, selfie sticks proved so popular that a selfie stick store opened in New York City’s Times Square during the summer of 2015.

The selfie is changing how we present ourselves to the world. Filters and edits make it possible to alter our image beyond what is real, and some argue it is an art form. Pop-up museums dedicated to selfies are in many cities, including Denver (pictured above). With backgrounds meant to create a well-styled Instagram photo, the idea is to take selfies to a whole new level.

While the selfie is indelibly intertwined with a certain generation, it seems to transcend many boundaries, including age. At a restaurant recently, I overheard a 20-something ask their server to take a photo of their group. The eldest of the group, probably in his 70s, reached for his phone and exclaimed, “Oh, I can take a selfie!”

Photo of girls at the Denver Selfie Museum

 

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