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June 13, 2017

The History of the Selfie: 10 defining selfies from the Self-Expression exhibition

by John_A

Selfies are so, well, now, aren’t they? Whether you favour a duck-like pout or want to snap yourself in every conceivable location, you’re just fashionably current.

Except the selfie has actually been around for centuries. True, it was called the self-portrait then and involved oil paints and canvas back then, but today’s self-portraitists can still find inspiration from the masters. A current exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery, in collaboration with Huawei focuses on the selfie. It’s called From Selfie to Self-Expression, Here are what we think are 10 of the best selfies from the exhibition. 

Vincent Van Gogh Self-Portrait with bandaged ear

The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London

Vincent Van Gogh painted himself in 1889, bandage across mutilated ear and all. No, no, we’re not suggesting you go for the bandaged look, let alone what lurks beneath it, but check out the colours – wearing strong greens or even a fur hat in blue make for bold choices, which is what you need in a striking selfie.

Many phones have filters you can add to your camera so you can see, real-time – what effect it will have on your photo. The Huawei P10 has nine filters to choose from, including Impact, Original, Blue, Nostalgia and Sentimental. Surely one of those would have appealed to Vincent?

Barack Obama selfie with Danish Prime Minister

Courtesy ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images

There are also selfies of a more conventional kind, like the famous one of Barack Obama, David Camera on and Danish PM Helen Thorning-Schmidt crowding into the selfie they took at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service. Of course, the famous picture is a photo of a selfie rather than the selfie itself. And it brings home that for many phones you have to squeeze in together to get everybody in shot. The Huawei P10 has a smart selfie camera, made in conjunction with Leica. If it sees more than one person is there, it switches to a wide-angle mode so everybody’s there, with no crowding!

Hillary Clinton Group Selfie

Barbara Kinney/Hillary for America

Talking about crowding, take a look at this one of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton posing so everybody else can take a selfie with her. That’s proof that the self-portrait is here to stay. And the Leica front camera on the P10 would have worked well for any of the snappers in this shot. What’s more, the selfie camera has portrait-friendly extras which can enhance skin tone – well you want to look your best next to Hillary Clinton, don’t you? It can also soften the background and enhance the lighting.

Actor Benedict Cumberbatch jumps behind U2 at the 86th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California

Courtesy Mike Blake / Reuters

Of course, there’s still room for photobombing, like when actor Benedict Cumberbatch forced his way into a photo that was meant to be just of U2, at the 2012 Oscars ceremony. Still, the P10 camera is fast, so you may be able to snap before any nearby Sherlock Holmes actors hog the limelight.

Chris Levine 2017

Chris Levine 2017

Chris Levine’s photograph is a good example of a self-portrait that could only have been taken recently on a phone as cameras have only just become good enough to do so. The P10 has two Leica cameras on the rear. One shoots in black-and-white, which means that lots more light gets in more quickly to give outstanding smartness. The other shoots simultaneously and does so in colour, making sure colours are faithfully represented. Filters can bleach the colour out again, as here.

Chuck Close Big Self-Portrait

Chuck Close, Courtesy Pace Gallery

By the way, if you’re using the rear camera, you can make use of that twin sensor arrangement and shoot just using the black-and-white sensor. As you can see from Chuck Close’s self-portrait taken in the sixties, a monochrome image can be plenty captivating.

Cindy Sherman Untitled Film Still #21

Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

Or take a look at this portrait from 1977 by Cindy Sherman where the high contrast and sharp focus make the portrait subject leap out at you. Again, the 20MP black-and-white Leica camera can deliver brilliantly sharp, detailed pics. And, unlike previous Huawei phones, you can now shoot just in monochrome and still achieve that elegant bokeh effect where your subject is sharp and the background smooth and out of focus.

George Harrison Taj Mahal Self-Portrait

Harrison Family

Of course, for most of us the purpose of selfies is also capturing wherever we are, like this celebrated pic of George Harrison at the Taj Mahal. The Huawei P10 selfie camera is good enough to capture subject and background in sharp detail, without the need for the fish-eye effect George favoured.

Matt Stuart 2017

Matt Stuart 2017

Still, don’t hold back from being creative, like Matt Stuart did with this overhead shot. You can stage images like this, but the camera on the P10 is also quick to launch, and then very quick to focus, so you can catch moments that other smartphones might not be nippy enough to manage.

Rembrandt van Rijn Self-Portrait with Two Circles

Courtesy Kenwood House, Iveagh Bequest/English Heritage

Finally, another classic. You may not be able to recreate Rembrandt’s self-portrait but the wide-open aperture on the Huawei P10 means you can capture an image in relatively low light and still find it’s sharp and detailed. Oh, and it won’t take as long to create as the original did. Sorry, Rembrandt. 

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