Ed#455: Just Look at Yourself

4 April 2014 Alan Attwood

Ed#455: Just Look at Yourself

I went to a concert not long ago. It’s worth saying this, because some suspect I don’t get out enough. This was an outdoor concert by a visiting international act one lovely evening, with the majority of the audience in a general-seating area on the lawn. Well, it’s ‘seating’ in theory; once the main attraction started playing, of course, everyone stood up. Shorter people were dismayed; as I’m tall, I could stand up the back without complaint. Except that I kept being distracted: some people now pay money for concert-tickets so they can have a nice chat. Even while musicians are playing. Strange. Even stranger was the sight of many people, usually in pairs, posed with their backs to the stage, one with a phone held up before them in the pose we’ve all come to know, snapping pictures of themselves with the performers just visible way off in the background. It seemed to me like a kind of confirmation. See? We were there! To which you might reply: yes, you were there, but you hardly did justice to the song being played while you were preoccupied with your selfie…

Selfie. Not long ago, few would have been familiar with the word. Now everyone knows it, and everyone seems to be taking them. The results are everywhere. I wonder if the clever people who first thought of building cameras into mobile phones envisaged that their primary use would be for snapping pictures of the phones’ owners. (I suspect not, because camera lenses were originally only on the back of phones.)

The selfies explosion also has a lot to do with the power of the web and social media as distribution mediums. A picture like the famous star-studded selfie from this year’s Oscars ceremony can be taken, then made visible all around the world, in a matter of minutes. Long gone is the era of waiting days for developed pictures to be ready for pick-up from a local store. Why, within that timeframe the subject of a selfie could have had a complete makeover.

Clem Bastow, a former Big Issue Music Editor and regular contributor, was well qualified to write our cover story, as she cheerfully acknowledges that she has taken innumerable selfies over the years: happy selfies, sad selfies, feeling-sick selfies, even some saucy selfies (though that adjective may just apply to a pizza topping). She has some theories about their popularity and prevalence; she also makes the point that self-portraiture is nothing new. Anyone railing against self-indulgence and narcissism may also have to level the same claim against van Gogh and Rembrandt and Picasso and Kahlo and countless other big names who were known to turn their artistic eyes on themselves. The impulse is the same; the main difference is the medium: brush and paint have become phone and camera-shutter. Oh yes, and van Gogh, for example, wasn’t able to press some buttons to send a copy of a new picture to his brother with a message: Hey Theo. The new look. A step too far with the ear?? But here’s a prediction: van Gogh’s work will endure much, much longer than all but a tiny fraction of the selfies being snapped every second of every day – including those taken at outdoor concerts.


And here it is. The announcement you’ve been waiting for. Entries are now open for the 2014 Big Issue fiction edition. Once again, all submissions will be judged ‘blind’, with no names attached. We are inviting all writers to send us stories. This year’s theme is as simple as it is open-ended: Take Me Away…

Stories must be no longer than 2500 words. Closing date for entries is 6 June 2014. Full details are on our website: thebigissue.org.au

» Alan Attwood is Editor of The Big Issue.

This article appeared in Ed#455 of The Big Issue magazine.