Stuck on a ledge halfway up a 3,000-foot (1,000-meter) cliff in Oman,
his climbing rope sliced in two by sharp rocks, Jimmy Chin did what
anyone else would have done in his predicament.
He took a selfie.
had some time to figure out what I was going to do," said Chin, a
National Geographic photographer whose images of extreme climbing by the
Straits of Hormuz appear in the magazine's January issue.
when I took the selfie," he told AFP. "It was one of those moments
when, 'Well, I'm a Nat Geo photographer'. I had to document (the
moment). It was pretty classic."
Self-portraiture has been around
for centuries, but the global proliferation of smartphones with built-in
digital cameras plus the ability to share photos instantly on social
media has taken the genre to a new level.
With 2013 coming to a
close, the publishers of the hallowed Oxford English Dictionary,
arguably the final authority in anglophone lexicography, declared selfie
to be their "word of the year."
(Also see: 'Selfie' is Oxford's word of the year)
"Selfie: noun, informal. A
photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a
smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website," according
to Oxford. "Also: selfy. Plural: selfies."
provider Yahoo meanwhile estimates that in 2014, about 880 billion
photographs will be taken. That's 123 photos for every man, woman and
child on Earth. Many will be selfies.
In Britain, a survey for
Samsung found that 17 percent of men, and 10 percent of women, take
selfies because "they enjoy taking good-looking photos of themselves."
think 'selfie' is a term of endearment for the self, in a way," said
Sarah Kennel, curator of photography at the National Gallery of Art in
Washington, who admits to taking the odd selfie herself.
"It does reflect a kind of narcissism in our culture," she told AFP.
President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron got
tongues wagging when they took a selfie with Danish leader Helle
Thorning Schmidt at Nelson Mandela's memorial service in South Africa.
(Also see: Obama, Cameron 'selfie' at Mandela memorial creates online stir)
an incredible sign of the times," children's photographer Sarah
Sloboda, author of the e-book "How to Take the Best Selfies," told AFP.
"That's the kind of thing you can put in a time capsule to represent this period."
one knows if Obama and friends had even heard of Selfies at Funerals,
an equally controversial Tumblr compilation of, well, selfies taken at
funerals, mainly by young people.
"When a teen tweets out a
funeral selfie, their friends don't castigate them," its founder Jason
Feifer explained in Britain's Guardian newspaper.
that their friend, in their own way, is expressing an emotion they may
not have words for. It's a visual language that older people even those
like me, in their 30s simply don't speak."
The year also saw Pope
Francis in a selfie with teenagers at the Vatican, as well as pop diva
Beyonce turning up in a smiling fan's selfie in Australia, to cite a
couple of Time magazine's "11 most memorable selfies of 2013."
Los Angeles, gossip blogger Perez Hilton declared a pink-haired Miley
Cyrus posing for herself in a skimpy Lil' Kim Halloween costume his
favorite among countless celebrity selfies over the past 12 months.
But there's no need to be famous to become famous for a selfie.
to Reddit and other social media websites, goofy selfies of a proud
twentysomething dad in the Pacific Northwest state of Oregon mimicking
the faces of his newborn baby daughter went viral overnight.
"We just watched the camera screen and copied whatever face she was making," explained Eddie Wheeler to his fellow Reddit users.
Norway, popular fitness blogger Caroline Berg Eriksen snapped herself
in a mirror, wearing bra and panties, showing off a firm flat tummy just
four days after she gave birth.
Critics branded her selfie a
"disservice" to women, but Eriksen struck back, saying she took it and
shared it "because I'm proud of myself and my body for something as
tough as a pregnancy/birth."
And then there was the young woman in
New York who snapped a selfie with the Brooklyn Bridge and an attempted
suicide leap in the background. That image caused a stir when it made
page one of the New York Post.
"A selfie is a sort of perversion
(and) a conquest of social virtual terrain," said Paris-based travel
photographer Jean-Francois Vibert, who blogs at www.macandphoto.com.
perversion is not prohibited," added Vibert, who namechecks the
flamboyant pop star Nicki Minaj for selfies "so 'trash,' it's
self-mockery. On that level, the selfie is decadence for a totally
Kennel said self-portraits are as old as photography itself.
National Gallery's current exhibition of the work of Charles Marville
features selfies of the 19th century French photographer in which he
styles himself as a suave Parisian boulevardier the hipster of his day.
in London, the National Portrait Gallery has just put out a call for
selfies to be included in a panel discussion on January 16 entitled "The
Curated Ego: What Makes a Good Selfie?"
In announcing the event,
organizers identified Russian Grand Duchess Anastasia as "one of the
first teenagers to take a selfie." That was in 1914, when she was 13.
Alas, she had no Facebook or Twitter account to share it on.