Curious Frame

By Leanne Staples

Curious Frame - Issue #4 - The Age of Narcissism

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Curious Frame
Curious Frame - Issue #4 - The Age of Narcissism
By Leanne Staples • Issue #4 • View online
Curiosity is my middle name. It is the driving force behind everything I see and do in life and it fuels my creativity. So, Curious Frame is a very apt title for this newsletter which is about delving into the meaning of photos and photography.
The word curious means full of care. It is also derived from the same root word as curate. The first step is to be curious. To take the time to look at pictures. Slowly.
The second step is to take the time to curate, which literally means to love and gather. Collecting the photos that you like is similar to what a curator in a museum or gallery does. Handle with love, with care.
So Curious Frame is about taking the time to discover what moves us about photography and to attempt to better understand how it affects us. It requires time and attention to attain this. But it shouldn’t be a difficult or painful process. 
My mission is for Curious Frame to go beyond the typical newsletter and spark dialogue with you on the role of photography in the image overload world we live in. That’s why all you need to do is hit reply to start a conversation with me. Thank you for participating in the dialogue.

untitled photo montage #18, New York City, November 2020
untitled photo montage #18, New York City, November 2020
The Age of Narcissism
In 2013, the Oxford Dictionaries named ’selfie’ word of the year because of the rate at which it was used. While the first known usage of the word selfie goes back to 2002 in Australia, the rate of usage over recent years grew by an astronomical 17,000%. And that number was estimated 7 years ago!
Digital photography and especially the invention of the smart phone has made this possible for most everyone around the world and it doesn’t seem that this will slow down anytime soon. The technology advances at a rapid pace as do the methods which they can be shared on social media and other digital formats.
Self-Portrait with Mouths, New York City, January 2010
Self-Portrait with Mouths, New York City, January 2010
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we are now in the age of narcissism. I fail to understand why it is that so many people feel a need to be constantly photographing themselves everywhere they go and of everything they do. If often appears rather shallow.
People dress and style themselves for their selfies. Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame has perhaps been taken too literally. What do you do with hundreds of selfies? Yes, you share them on social media. And yes, it is with the expectation that it will receive thousands of likes and acceptance. But what do they mean?
Echo and Narcissus, by John William Waterhouse.
Echo and Narcissus, by John William Waterhouse.
In Greek mythology, the very beautiful Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water not realizing that he was looking at himself. His story has translated into modern psychology as vanity, self-admiration and there is even a narcissistic personality disorder. His is a cautionary tale with numerous endings, none of them are good.
So I am trying to make sense of it all. What does this say about who we are and what is important to us? For starters, selfies are not new though they were more commonly thought of as self-portraits and they have appeared in art for centuries now.
The first photographic selfie known was done in 1839. How about that? That’s almost 200 years ago. The photo below is of Robert Cornelius and it took him 10-15 minutes of sitting still in place to achieve it. Photography like art, can provide immortality which was the original purpose of portraits commissioned by the wealthy and royalty. This is an important aspect of creating a lasting legacy. 
Robert Cornelius Self-Portrait, 1839
Robert Cornelius Self-Portrait, 1839
We use selfies to define who we are both for ourselves and for how others see us. And it can be used as a method of how we construct our sense of self even if we are unaware we’re doing that.
They are also used as a form of status in society and provide a feeling of fitting in. It makes me wonder what photos didn’t make the cut? This act of editing who we are and what we would like people to see us as. We are creating our personas through our physical appearance.
It’s an interesting concept, the idea of standing outside yourself to have a perspective of your self. As if providing some kind of objectivity and the idea that we can actually see ourselves as others do.
But we never truly ‘see’ ourselves as others do. We are always more than what can be seen. We should, of course take care not to fall into the trap of thinking that ’seeing is believing’ a topic that I wrote about in issue 2 of this newsletter.
Self-Portrait with Shadows, New York City, April 2015
Self-Portrait with Shadows, New York City, April 2015
In many self-portraits and selfies, we see ourselves as a reflection. We see ourselves the way that we look when reflected in a mirror. Rather than how we look when others snap a photo of us. 
I’ve never really liked photos of myself. I prefer to be behind the camera. Not in front of it. However, I do take the occasional self-portrait. That is to say that they are creative like the above photo.
Looked at in another way, self-portraits can be seen as a form of performance. As Shakespeare wrote (c. 1599) in the play As You Like It:
“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,”
Cindy Sherman is perhaps one of the most famous artists that have used photography as performance. The highly staged photos that she took of herself taking on the personas of many different stereotypes of women. Her photos are not selfies or self-portraits. They are more like acting. The photo below is from a very famous series that she created titled Film Stills.
Cindy Sherman, Film Still #33, 1979
Cindy Sherman, Film Still #33, 1979
I’m not certain that I can come to a conclusion as to why so many have become so obsessed with selfies. I can only speculate and for the moment I’m not certain that I can find a positive decision about what it all means.
In general, it does have the ability for some people who are not part of the mainstream to find a commonality with others in helping them to discover their identity. But in my guesstimate, they are in the minority rather than the majority who take selfies on a very frequent basis.
I wish that I could say that I have some definitive answer to this phenomena, but perhaps that is why it is interesting to ponder. It is curious. I look forward to hearing your thoughts about this.
Further viewing
if you’d like to get a brief understanding of the work of Cindy Sherman, here’s a short video.
Robert Longo on Cindy Sherman's Untitled Film Still #25 (1978)
Tis the season
If you’re looking for unique gifts, here are a few sites:
Art, Etcetera | That Other Space (Shop)
Shop for Art, Zines & Publications - Leanne Staples
You can also find me at:
Artist, Photographer & Writer - Leanne Staples
Walking Photo Tours & Street Photography Workshops in New York City
Did you enjoy this issue?
Leanne Staples

In a world that is overpopulated with images, Curious Frame is where I share my thoughts on photography. It is always about ‘seeing with new eyes’.

I’m Leanne Staples, a photographer, artist, and writer living in New York City. Street photography and lens-based art are my passions, and Curious Frame is where I’ll be sharing my thoughts on these passions.

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