That Group Selfie Moment


Photograph by Tina Leggio

From Real Life:

Earlier this summer, I saw a photo on a lifestyle blog of three women by a pool, drinking rosé. They are taking a group selfie — one woman’s arm is extended, holding a black iPhone (you can clearly see the apple embossed on the back), while they cluster together to fit in the frame. They are all wearing sunglasses, but you can tell that their gazes are trained on the image from the self-facing camera. We don’t get to see that image, though; what’s posted is not the selfie but a professional photographer’s capture of the act from the outside. The photo, the professional one, was taken as part of a shoot for a “lookbook” (a sexier term for a catalog) for a collection of swim cover-ups; the women are bloggers who were chosen, and presumably paid, to be the “faces” of the collection.

Not long afterward, I saw a New Hampshire tourism ad on the outside of a bus stop near Copley Square in Boston. The ad shows a group of four, two kids and two adults, taking a selfie in the mountains. They’re a family I suppose, though I didn’t initially grasp them as such — so few of the selfies I see day to day are of families. They’re all wearing backpacks. Green mountains, blue sky. The man is holding the phone with arm extended (this time, there’s no free product placement for Apple); they tip their heads together as if in a photo booth, look into the camera and smile. LIMITLESS SUMMER, the ad copy says. NEW HAMPSHIRE. LIVE FREE. (What happened to the “die” option?)

What were these images of people taking photos of themselves trying to tell me? An image of a woman taking a selfie alone would telegraph confidence: She is thinking, I look good. (In YouTube parlance: I’m feeling myself.) I should document this moment.For example, the brand Make Up For Ever ran an ad in 2011 that claimed to be “the first unretouched makeup ad,” featuring a photo of a woman taking a selfie (with, oddly, a digital camera rather than a phone). Presumably, the “HD Invisible Cover” foundation makes your skin look so good you can go #nofilter. As Rachel Syme writes in her essay “SELFIE,” a woman who takes and posts a self-portrait has declared “that she deserves, in that moment, to be seen.”

But the emotive content of the group selfie, the apparent urge to document, is different. It says, We are having a good time. We’re enjoying ourselves. We’re happy.

“Picture Yourself Happy”, Elisa Gabbert, Real Life