The tale of Narcissus goes as such: a beautiful hunter is so conceited about his gorgeous looks that he finds all those who love him unworthy of his goods. Nemesis (a divine being who punished those who succumbed to their own pride) notices this jerk and guides him to a nice reflecting pool where Narcissus is like “hot-damn! who is that babe there in this reflecting pool?” (you know what they say about the brains of a beauty) and he just sits there staring at himself like those cute puppies who try to fight themselves.
Then he dies because he can’t love on himself. Also a flower grows where he died and that’s why we have Narcissus flowers.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the line between narcissism and this wildly-popular buzzword “self-love”. Where do they intersect? How does one tell them apart, especially in your own head? When can you admit that you’re worth it and when should you leave that up to silence?
I did a bit of research and, coupled with my own incessant thoughts on the subject, I decided to take a ton of mirror selfies, i.e. The Selfie Project.
I began on accident, actually. Taking my first one for a hashtag, and, liking how it looked as well as the satire on a culture saturated with selfie after selfie after selfie all in the name of self-love.
Do we need to learn to love ourselves more? Or are we already fully capable of doing that? Is the influx of photos that we share rather than appreciate by ourselves or in a smaller circle of people really doing anything? We could be feeding the very monster we want to destroy. We are hungry for likes (myself included) and attention in a world where our cry for the spotlight is just as loud as millions of others.
You’ll notice that all of my selfies are mirror selfies. And, if we’re confronting the idea of narcissism here, this approach makes the most sense. I wanted to frame myself in an environment, keeping a neutral expression, the composition of the place and the subject as the main concern.
Half of the reason I chose to cover my face and take selfies in the mirror is selfish (narcissistic?) however, it is because I prefer my reflection to reality.
What does that mean? Actually it’s scientific. A psychological phenomenon called the mere-exposure effect explains why we love what we see in the mirror but not what we see on camera.
Firstly, a mirror flips an image. That’s what it does. So you’ve never really seen yourself in the sense of what you really, really look like. You are not used to the image of what you look like, while you’re quite familiar with your own reflection. The mere-exposure effect is our preference for things that are familiar to us. And, since we’re very familiar with our image in the mirror, an actual photo of us is alien to our eyes.
Hence, the mirror selfies. That begs the question: did Narcissus love himself? Or just a false image of himself? Is loving yourself to the brink of social ineptitude false anyway? Probably.
A bizarre discovery I made in the midst of my project (which I decided to take up during my time in Paris) was that many people, when they saw me taking a selfie, wanted to join in with great enthusiasm.
Could one practice this shameful (in normal social settings) expression of “self-love” with others? What did it become then? A celebration perhaps. A way to recognize each other’s image in this fully conscious form.
When else are you this aware of your image in the point of time that it is frozen? And yet, the camera lies. It won’t give you reality either.
I began to pull in people when they weren’t aware of their picture being taken. I don’t exactly know why I did. Perhaps it was the desire to create an image of life as it’s happening, but without being behind the camera. I was there too, but I was stopping time for a millisecond and you could be none the wiser.
I took some distance from my selfies, contradicting the very idea of a selfie. What became of the mirror, that served to feed my ego? Now it was a mechanism of display, a necessity to show what was happening, for without it I’d simply be behind the lens.
Concealing myself, turning the idea of the selfie upside down; this became my game. How could I be in the picture but just barely? How could I trick you into thinking you weren’t looking at anyone when, in fact, you were looking straight at me?
Then I wondered: is it still narcissism if I conceal myself? Perhaps it is even more so. I made these photos about myself, even though they started off as something entirely different to the viewer.
Or the act of deleting myself down to the last eyeball or foot is the act of deleting hubris.
At last, I challenged the mirror. I asked it why it even needed to exist. Many things reflect. Many people stroll by large windows and look at themselves. We see ourselves in water or in a spoon. In things where we should not look at ourselves, we see ourselves. Or at least our own false image.
Is my project narcissistic then? I eliminated myself. I eliminated my medium.
But I took pictures of myself, searched for places where my doppelganger could reappear and beg for my lens.
And in the end, I’m not the least bit ashamed.