The Impact of Selfie Culture at the Saatchi Gallery with Huawei

Apologies for the slight radio silence over the past few weeks, you may have seen I’ve had a bit of time off and also have some exciting news and content to share over the next few weeks. However, this came into my inbox today and I thought was a great read, especially considering the whole #Instafraud debate with people now photo-shopping themselves into fake locations! This isn’t sponsored content, I just found it very interesting and insightful. Plus it’s unusual for a tech brand to explore such insight into people’s lives of which their products have so much impact – are you ever without your humble smartphone?

An expert panel spanning the fields of cultural criticism, social media, neuroscience and photography discussed the impact of selfie culture at #Me My_Selfie and I: Self-Expression in the Digital Age, a symposium presented by Huawei at London’s Saatchi Gallery earlier this month.

Huawei, one of my favourite tech brands, hosted the event to evolve the conversation around selfies first encouraged by the runaway success of From Selfie to Self-Expression, the world’s first exhibition exploring the history of self-portraiture curated by Huawei and the Saatchi Gallery. The exhibition is the world’s first showcase of the art of the selfie over the past 500 years, inspired by the HUAWEI P10 smartphone – featuring the world’s first 8 megapixel Leica front camera (which is sweeeet).

Chaired by broadcaster Clemency Burton-Hill, the discussion delved into the pros and cons of selfie culture from a multitude of perspectives.

Journalist, broadcaster, stylist and brand consultant Pandora Sykes shed light on the deep, conflicting emotions that can be stirred by the humble selfie, irrespective of whether the producer intended them or not.

“Two words come to mind when describing the concept of the selfie: empowering and exploitative. Whilst Kim Kardashian might be empowered by her own selfies, posting them with the intention they have the same effect for her viewers, there is the risk of the opposite happening and her viewers being and feeling exploited.”

Fresh from writing a book about the modern world’s obsession with selfies, award-winning journalist and novelist Will Storr delved into history, saying

“humans have and are always seeking validation. The selfie world dates back 2,500 years. In Ancient Greece you had to be a hustler and an individual to make your mark, with this evolving into the adoration of the self. The selfie is the modern adaptation of this. In this way, Van Gogh and Kim Kardashian aren’t so different.”

Bringing hard-hitting facts and academic rigour to the discussion tonight was Dr. Sarah Diefenbach, professor for market and consumer psychology at the Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich. She put forward the motion of a “selfie paradox,” revealing her own research which says that as much as 90% of people don’t like selfies and yearn for “normal” content – yet almost all of them continue to take them:

“There will always be someone better than you on social media, as you don’t get to see the average. But the magic of the selfie is that it is a non-conscious process, it is a playful mode of expression. Sometimes a selfie is exactly what you need – selfies can make you happy.”

Diving into the discussion from the perspective of craft and aesthetics, acclaimed fashion photographer Alex Lambrechts hopes for a future of the selfie that is far different to that we currently know and love:

“The selfie bubble in its current state will burst. Helped by the advances in technology, selfies of low quality that don’t represent more than their face value will become a thing of the past. The audience will soon become better educated and better viewers, leading to selfies expressing more than just the person in it. They will have a message and represent something bigger.”

Walter Ji, President of Huawei’s Consumer Business Group for the Western European Region, said:

“Thanks to advancements in many areas of technology, the innovation, enthusiasm and quality of selfies has increased exponentially in recent years. Just this year we have seen the significance and importance of this form of art go from strength to strength, meaning now is a good a time as ever to look at the effects of the selfie – on the psyche, on fashion, on technology, on culture as a whole.”

Finally, Nigel Hurst, Saatchi Gallery CEO, added

“There is no denying that the selfie has had an impact in many walks of life, the art world included. From the masters of Van Gogh and Rembrandt to the Pope and Obama, everyone has appeared in a self-portrait of some kind. The smartphone has gone on to democratise visual self-expression and, in doing so, evolved the self-portrait form. There is now the discussion of selfies being icons of the digital era, a discussion that we are happy to be facilitating with Huawei.”

Turning the lens on selfie culture itself, Huawei and Saatchi Gallery are advancing the conversation following several recent milestones around the subject including:

  • From Selfie to Self-Expression being extended by two months until July 23rd 2017 due to popular demand. So go and see it.
  • #SaatchiSelfie – an international competition exploring and advancing the creative potential of the selfie – receiving over 14,000 entries from 113 different countries, being won by Dawn Woolley from Cambridge.
  • The recent launch of #SelfExpression, a competition for anyone with a smartphone to document the world and those around them for the chance to win a solo exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery later this year.
  • The launch of the HUAWEI P10 smartphone, co-engineered with Leica, which features the world’s first 8MP Leica front camera and dual Leica lens. I’ll likely be reviewing this in the coming weeks too (again, not sponsored, just a big fan and you know what a techy I am!)

Finally all the proceeds from the evening will be donated to the London Fire Relief Fund, created by the British Red Cross to help people affected by the Grenfell Tower fire in west London.

So where do you stand on the humble selfie?? Let me know on Twitter @manfaceuk.

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