Museum in L.A. celebrates the selfie

Digital Originals

Museum in L.A. celebrates the selfie

If you’ve been to any major tourist spot recently, you’ve probably dodged the selfie stick.

It seems everywhere from Hollywood to London Bridge to Times Square to Red Square, people are trying to capture the moment in a way that could never have been imagined a decade ago.

In fact, the selfie is now such a prominent part of life that some celebrities and brands rely on them. And now, the selfie has got its own museum: where else, but Los Angele.

The brainchild of co-founders Tommy Honton and Tair Mamedov, the pop-up experience opened on April 1st and gives selfie-lovers the chance to learn about the history of the self-portrait and the most popular place we tend to take them.

“Selfies have a very different history than people expect. And if we can open that up to people that might love them or hate them, we can make people learn all about this weird, interesting thing that is surprisingly rich in history”, Honton tells CGTN.

“You can capture very personal, very intimate, very fun, very proud moments. Very quickly too and there is something about the candor of it, the naturalness of it that’s really exciting. Yeah, vanity plays into it at some point, but the fact that anybody can take them, there are tonnes of reasons people do it and so we want to show people this is more than about vanity..It’s not about the screen obsession, not about living life through a phone. That’s only part of it. We’re actually warning against that. This is actually about being able to enjoy life and capture fun moments and not judge other people for it.”

Visitors are given a tour through settings including a virtual gym and a virtual bathroom – two places where selfies are often taken and posted. But there’s a twist here: the mirrors in the gym are warped to show that what you see on a selfie on Instagram or Weibo may not necessarily be what was actually there, thanks to the power of Photoshop and various filter-laden apps. The virtual bathroom has a hole where the mirror should be, leading selfie-takers to look confused at first.

And there are exhibitions examining where the selfie first began: a contentious issue. Prominence is given to Vincent Van Gogh who painted his own portrait. Was that the first selfie… Or was it created by cavemen drawing pictures on walls… It’s an argument that will probably never be settled. It almost certainly wasn’t socialite Paris Hilton, contrary to recent claims.

But Lester Wisbrod claims he had a hand in it. He’s a TV cameraman based in Los Angeles and many regard him as the creator of the now popular selfie-with-a-star which appears to have replaced the autograph as the ultimate fan accessory. He has thousands of photos he took of himself with stars ranging from Jennifer Aniston to Susan Sarandon to Clint Eastwood to James Earl Jones. For more than twenty years, he’d ask the stars he came across through his work if he could take a photo with them. This was in the day when cameras were larger, there was no self-portrait option and the photo was taken on film: you didn’t know how it was going to turn out until much later when the film was processed:

“Most of the time, when you hold the camera out, people would rush up and say ‘hey, let me take that for you and I’m like… It’s OK’ but the celebs would be like ‘is this gonna work’…You can see on Clint Eastwood’s face… He’s kinda going ‘What…”, he tells CGTN.

Perhaps the biggest sign that the selfie is here to stay is the fact that one of the country’s most-respected universities actually ran a course called the ‘Selfie Lesson’. The University of Southern California had it as a freshman course, exploring the science and mentality behind the self-portraits we all take. It’s no longer running, but Mark Marino who taught it explains why it was incredibly popular:

“When we presented the class to the students, they got these wry smiles on their faces… Like: ‘Are you really going to ask us to take selfies…Do you realize that this is a university course… But quickly it became an opportunity to think about identity and all those different aspects of identity that we produce consciously and subconsciously when we present versions of ourselves through these selfies.”

There can be a downside to the selfie phenomenon, though. Pop Culture expert Mike Sington, elaborates on how poor performance of a selfie on social media (in terms of the amount of ‘likes’ it gets not matching what the poster had hoped for) can affect one’s self-esteem:

“It’s very important how you post selfies”, he tells CGTN. “I mean, you’ve got to take many pictures, post the best ones, do a little editing, and hopefully that will increase your self-esteem. But people do post selfies that if they don’t get 50, 60, 70, 80 likes, they’ll delete it and post again.”

The Selfie Museum can be located in Glendale, Los Angeles. It’ll run for a limited time