Selfies aren’t narcissistic, they’re your face for the world, and for creative professionals, they can be a persuasive way to get your work and name known
This morning I noticed the light coming through the kitchen windows. It was soft, beautiful, and reflected off the smooth surfaces around me as I made my morning coffee. I thought it would make for a good photo, so I set up my tripod and I started taking photos of myself. I was alone, using a self timer and posing in front of a window. I felt pretty stupid. A long string of self(ie)-loathing thoughts followed. Clearly, I don’t do this often.
I feel just as awkward writing about selfies as I do taking them. Aren’t there more important things to be talking about here? Sure. But the selfie, ridiculous or not, is a permanent fixture in visual culture.
Where are my selfies?
I’m a professional photographer. If you take a scroll through my Instagram feed, you’ll find very few photos of me. The lack of scenes from my daily life mostly stems from wanting to let my work speak for itself. But I’d be lying if I said that self-consciousness didn’t play a part. I’ve never felt very comfortable in front of the camera. I get awkward. What do I do with my hands? Should I show my teeth or just grin? I really do empathize with clients who squirm before my camera. I try to do everything that I can when I’m shooting to bring them out of their heads and into the present moment with me. I’m just not so good at doing that for myself. Even the few selfies I do have generally involve something covering my face — coffee, hands, my camera. My evasion is deliberate.
“Why don’t you post more pictures of yourself?” I’m asked often. That question gets raised almost every time someone looks through my feed while I’m standing next to them. “Why do you post so many pictures of yourself?” I want to blurt in reply. I bite my tongue.
My go-to rationale thus far has been something along the lines of using Instagram as a *portfolio* — I get a lot of work from social media, and since I make my living as a photographer, it just makes sense to showcase the things I’m shooting and creating rather than my face. That’s true, but the fact that people even ask me that question raises some concerns: Why do they even care? What is it about seeing into other people’s lives that brings satisfaction to them? Is it just voyeurism, or is it more than that? And more importantly, would it be a bigger help to my brand, and my business, if I allowed for those brief glimpses into my own life?
One of the other reasons why I haven’t posted many self-portraits is because a part of me takes issue with how often modern culture is blamed for growing narcissism. Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, Snapchat, hell, even Medium … they all seem to center around this notion that:
There are countless articles about how we’re becoming too self-involved. Depending on who you believe, we’re either more empowered, more controlled, more self-obsessed or more stupid. I’m not totally comfortable with selfies (obviously) but that’s partly because I haven’t figured out exactly what, how and why they are!
The reality is that selfies aren’t going anywhere. And as averse as I am to the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” mindset, I do actually enjoy seeing the occasional selfie from people that I follow. As long as that’s not all they’re posting, mind you. There has to be a balance, after all.
I am just as guilty as anyone of trolling through other people’s lives from the distant comfort of my device. They’re interesting lives. At least they appear to be. And maybe that’s where the hesitation comes in for those of us who aren’t as comfortable sharing. Perhaps we feel that our lives don’t measure up? That our life is not as interesting as everyone else’s. Not as glamorous. That we’re not as attractive. It’s a real problem, sad as it is. But, what I’ve started to realize, and I think this is important, is that it
Think about the feeds you follow. Think about your favorite ones. For me, almost 100% of the time, they’re people who post a combination of brilliant photographs with a sprinkling of their every-day lives. Not glamorized versions of them, but real stuff. The ones who really did wake up like that. It seems the people who stop caring about it, inevitably become the people we all fall in love with. They just own their skin, and their lives, and everyone else can either accept them for it, or keep on scrolling.
Creative professionals can learn from these folks who effortlessly and convincingly throw believable selfies into their Instalives. If you accompany your work and talent with real glimpses into your life, your followers will be able to identify that much more with you. Selfies and other personal snippets have the capacity to create an emotional connection.
In this moment, as I consider posting more selfies, I’ll admit to being anxious. Yet, I’m eager to test my theory. Sure, I may lose some of my following initially but, over time, followers who don’t relate with me will replaced by ones who can. I hope.
I’ve had this mindset that my social media feeds needed to be pristine, curated and personally ambiguous; that they should represent my work and nothing more. But I’ve been ignoring an important factor… and that is that when people hire someone, especially a creative, who you are is almost as important as what you’re creating. People need to feel like they can relate to you. More importantly, they need to feel like they can trust you. And letting them see who you really are will go a long way toward accomplishing that.
To Selfie Or Not To Selfie?
Post selfies, don’t post selfies, whatever. In the existential sense, it’s not important. Humanity will be unaffected either way. But in this modern weirdness that we currently find ourselves in, people have become brands and sharing moments from your life is a necessary evil in marketing your work, your brand, your person. This is especially true for creatives: artists, photographers, videographers, models, graphic designers, hairstylists, makeup artists, chefs … the list is long. If a professional is not using social media to promote her or himself, they’re missing out on free marketing with the potential to open doorways to great opportunities.
You are a brand. Your product is yourself. Social media is your commercial. So … What should it look like? What should it communicate? How should it flow? Those are all up to you to answer, but I think I’m starting to redefine my own. I guess what I’m really trying to say, is that I hope you like my face. Because you’ll be seeing more of it.