The teen selfie series I’m currently working on has been a major departure from my previous work. I’m using the compositions of others, relying on their style of expression to create a portrait. Really what I’m doing is celebrating their creativity while learning from their photographic work. As much as we like to equate selfies with technology and social media and all those things my generation loves to hate, it’s really just photography. When we look through the multitude of photos it takes to get that one perfect selfie, it’s no different from a professional photographer scanning a proof sheet for a cover shot.
Now that I’m at the halfway point in this project, I wanted to take a look back at what I’ve learned so far from this group of teens. Here are my thoughts:
- Eye contact is almost always a priority in these selfies. The majority of the photos focus on the eyes, and so far, all but one involve very precise eye makeup.
- Angles are a fascinating component in the selfie. Never have I drawn so many interesting perspectives with the camera above, beneath, at a diagonal, in ways that I never would have thought of.
- The crop of the photo rarely centers the face—it’s more often to one side, sometimes with part of the face cropped out.
- You can never predict the response when you offer someone a free portrait in exchange for the use of their image, or how their families will respond. I’ve received heartfelt letters of thanks from subjects; I’ve had teens use their portrait as their profile photos on social media; but I’ve had more than one teen not respond at all after the portrait was complete, after all, they didn’t ask for it. It can be a little heartbreaking after weeks of work, but it comes with the territory. I had a soft spot in my heart for all of these kids before I started, and for some our connection has grown stronger.
I’m very grateful that these teens have let me into their lives so that I could learn from them and hopefully honor them. I hope that they continue to create and share so that we can enjoy their work. Now on to the next batch…!