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#SaatchiSelfie: Has the Selfie Killed the Art of Photography?

As the line between camera and smartphone grows blurrier, are we closer than ever to art, or growing more distant with every computer-generated shutter sound?

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Has the selfie killed the art of photography? Or can we all be artists if armed with a smartphone? The Saatchi’s current headline exhibition suggests the latter. After all, self-portraits have been around since the 1500s (or even earlier), they just took a little longer, and a little more oil and turps in those days.

Huawei #Me My_Selfie and I

Huawei #Me My_Selfie and I

From Selfie to Self-Expression

Such is the popularity of the Saatchi & Huawei ‘s STSE exhibition, that it has been extended until 6 September 2017.

The show gives visitors (of which there have been so many thus far the exhibition has warranted a near two-month extension) the chance to gaze not only upon selfies from across the ages (from Van Gogh to Kim Kardashian) but to become part of the exhibition themselves, with interactive mirror and video displays.

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One room features walls full of YouTubers shouting for your attention. Another has self-portraits by Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Cézanne and Renoir, all showing on enlarged smartphone screens and encouraging viewers to ‘like’ them.

A series of recognisable celebrity selfies are followed by the short-listed entries to the Saatchi’s selfie competition, and the winner Dawn Woolley, who won with her entry ‘The Substitute (Holiday)’.

To celebrate the success of the exhibition, Saatchi and headline sponsor Huawei hosted a panel discussion ‘#Me My_Selfie and I: Self-Expression in the Digital Age’ with speakers including Pandora Sykes, novelist Will Storr, Dr. Sarah Diefenbach and fashion photographer Alex Lambrechts. Here, they give their take on the current state of the selfie…

‘Two words come to mind when describing the concept of the selfie: empowering and exploitative. Whilst Kim Kardashian might be empowered by her own selfies, posting them with the intention they have the same effect for her viewers, there is the risk of the opposite happening and her viewers being and feeling exploited.’ – Pandora Sykes

‘The selfie world dates back 2,500 years. In Ancient Greece you had to be a hustler and an individual to make your mark, with this evolving into the adoration of the self. The selfie is the modern adaptation of this. In this way, Van Gogh and Kim Kardashian aren’t so different.’ – Will Storr

Current Art Exhibitions in London

‘There will always be someone better than you on social media, as you don’t get to see the average. But the magic of the selfie is that it is a non-conscious process, it is a playful mode of expression. Sometimes a selfie is exactly what you need – selfies can make you happy.’ – Dr Sarah Diefenbach

‘The selfie bubble in its current state will burst. Helped by the advances in technology, selfies of low quality that don’t represent more than their face value will become a thing of the past. The audience will soon become better educated and better viewers, leading to selfies expressing more than just the person in it. They will have a message and represent something bigger.’ – Alex Lambrechts

saatchi gallery

So what does this mean for art?

Whether or not a smartphone selfie can ever truly be considered art, the popularity of the Saatchi’s current show (and the content of 90% of the world’s most popular social media accounts) proves the selfie bubble isn’t quite ready to burst.

‘From the masters of Van Gogh and Rembrandt to the Pope and Obama, everyone has appeared in a self-portrait of some kind. The smartphone has gone on to democratise visual self-expression and, in doing so, evolved the self-portrait form. There is now the discussion of selfies being icons of the digital era, a discussion that we are happy to be facilitating with Huawei.’ – Nigel Hurst, Saatchi Gallery CEO

Self-Expression Competition

But if all this self-gazing has you feeling a little queasy, there’s some good news. The final room of the Saatchi’s headline exhibition turns the smartphone around, with a series of shots by exciting British artists, who were commissioned to use the new Huawei P10 smartphone (co-engineered with Leica lenses) with just one brief: ‘anything but a selfie’. Read our interview with one of the artists involved, Jonny Briggs, here.

Consuming a Grief That’s Yet to Come, Jonny Briggs

Consuming a Grief That’s Yet to Come, Jonny Briggs

And following the success of the #SaatchiSelfie competition, which attracted 14,000 entries, Saatchi Gallery and Huawei are joining forces again with a new photography competition.

The #SelfExpression Competition invites artists, photographers, creative individuals and anyone with a smartphone to turn their gaze away from the self to document the world and those around them, with the chance to win a solo exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery.

The winners will have their work exhibited at the Saatchi Gallery in London and will also each receive Huawei’s newest P10 smartphone, co-engineered with Leica, which features the world’s first 8MP Leica front camera and dual Leica lens.

The competition closes on 23 July. Click here for more information.