The Medium/Message vs Message/Medium discussion.

Leading on from the last post, can we ever have self-portraits on social media, is a response to question that never goes away:

Is the medium the message, or is the message the medium?

Kate Losse

“The self is the message and the selfie is the medium”

Oxford University Press Bog, Jose van Dijck

“There is quite a difference in taste and message between selfies on various social media platforms”

He goes on to explain

Facebook selfies are ‘normal’, relaxed portraits

Instagram selfies are ‘stylised’ and ‘paint a desirable persona’

Snapchat selfies are a playful, fleeting image understood that it is not meant to last, or be referred to at a later time


Pamela Rutledge

A selfie is a ‘Self generated Self-portrait’ (is that not true for all self portraits?)

“We interpret a profile picture much more differently than a selfie. Profile pictures are meant to represent us…selfies communicate a transitory message at a single moment in time. We are more concerned with the context, the ‘what’s going on’ than the projection of identity”

So Rutledge comments that it is not so much your face that’s important – it’s the fact it is conforming or taking part in a social event or social practice that connects you to your peers. A self-portrait however does not concern itself with pre configured ideas or expectations, it is a description of oneself without the ties of social media and peer pressure, in the aim of exploring the true self – perhaps in ‘inner’, ‘private’ self through public, visible means.

But can this fall foul of the intent vs impact discussion too?

If you upload a self-portrait to instagram and someone comments  ‘nice selfie’ has that self portrait become a selfie due to the context and you engaging in that environment even though you never meant for it to be a ‘selfie’?

Does it devalue your self-portrait? Does it change the semiotics of the image? Does social media have semiotics of it’s own? Pouted lips, a shot from above, smiling, not smiling all have their own meaning and signalling system amidst the selfie social media culture as shown in SelfieCity and it is all related to the area of the world which we are inhabiting.

So is the key to separating self-portraits from selfies lie in the medium? Is it other people’s comments and approval that make it so clearly a selfie rather than a self-portrait? Do we have to take control of our self-portrait, disengage from comments, block likes and just let the photograph exist as it is? Is that the only way we could ever truly have a non-selfie on Instagram?

Surely painters before us sought feedback on their self-portraits? Surely they took criticism on the pose, the colour, the accuracy of representation? Yet they are still self-portraits, aren’t they? They are according to the Oxford Dictionary definition because they are not photographs taken on mobile devices.

So is it therefore simply photographers that are stuck in this murky, catch 22 of self-representation and self-identity?


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