Jerry Saltz tours the history of the digital self-portrait and predicts its future:
Whatever the selfie represents, it’s safe to say it’s in its Neolithic phase. In fact, the genre has already mutated at least once. Artist John Monteith has saved thousands of anonymous images from the selfie’s early digital era, what Monteith calls the “Wild West days” of selfies. These are self-portraits taken with crude early webcams, showing weird coloration, hot spots, bizarre resolution. Posted online starting around 1999, they have mostly evaporated into the ethersphere.
The “aesthetic” of these early selfie calling cards and come-ons is noticeably different from today’s, because the cameras were deskbound. Settings are more private, poses more furtive, sexual. Tics crop up: women showing new tongue piercings, shirtless men with nunchucks. They seem as ancient as photographs of nineteenth-century Paris.
It’s easy to project that, with only small changes in technology and other platforms, we will one day see amazing masters of the form. We’ll see selfies of ordeal, adventure, family history, sickness, and death. There will be full-size lifelike animated holographic selfies (can’t wait to see what porn does with that!), pedagogical and short-story selfies. There could be a selfie-Kafka. We will likely make great selfies—but not until we get rid of the stupid-sounding, juvenile, treacly name. It rankles and grates every time one reads, hears, or even thinks it. We can’t have a Rembrandt of selfies with a word like selfie.