From selfie to self-expression – Saatchi gallery 9.7.17

 This exhibition explores the history of the selfie from the self-portraits of the old masters to the present day, highlighting the mobile phone as a tool for self-expression. The exhibition argues that what we think of as a selfie – taking our own picture with our own camera – is not new at all.

In the 16th century, it was only the artists who had the skills, materials and tools to create self-portraits,” said gallery chief executive Nigel Hurst, who had the idea for the show. “Now we all have that wherewithal through our smartphones.” (Brown, 2017). The first gallery has images of some of the finest self-portraits by artists including Rembrandt, Picasso, Van Gough, Munch, Courbet, Monte, Manet, Schiele and Kahlo as slide shows.

Parmigianino: Self-portrait in a convex mirror (1523-24)


(ARTnews, 2017)

Vincent Van Gough: Self-portrait (1889)


(The Courtauld Institute of Art, 2017)

Gustave Courbet: The desperate man (1843-45)


(galleryIntell, 2017)

Frida Kahlo: The Wounded Deer (1946)


(Fridakahlo.org, 2017)

Photographs in the show include Stanley Kubrick looking intently into a mirror as he takes a photograph of himself, and George Harrison taking a picture of himself in front of the Taj Mahal in 1966.

George Harrison’s fisheye self-portraits in India, 1966 (1).png

(Hmoong, 2017)

The first selfie ever is of five mustachioed men (1920) in hats and suits on a New York rooftop holding a briefcase-sized camera at arm’s length. This selfie fascinated me, Victor Obstatz’s 1953 portrait of Marcel Duchamp, with his profile and front of face combined.


(Moellerfineart.com, 2017)

More contemporary examples of selfies include celerity photobombs such as the one taken by Barack Obama with David Cameron and the Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt. (Brown, 2017). I found the photograph of Hillary Clinton on a platform allowing a huge crowd to take selfies with her highly amusing.

There are also many extreme selfies, such as the man running away from a bull, selfies taken at a great height (out of planes, from tall buildings).


(NBC News, 2017)

Of course the famous “Macaque monkey” (2011) 1st selfie by animal is there too.


(BBC News, 2017)

This Bruce Nauman self-portrait is an interesting homage to marcel Duchamp’s fountain 1917:


(Pictify, 2017)

One of the most disturbing to me is by Jean – Francois “shot into the camera” (1987) which was a photo shooting gallery fun fair attraction when the customer hit a bulls eye a camera triggered winning themselves a snapshot of themselves in the act of shooting.


(the Guardian, 2017)

The show showcases a huge variety of selfies from the master painters to contemporary selfies such as, Lucian Freud, Cindy Sherman, Andy Warhol, Tracy Emin. It caused me to reexamine the definition of a selfie, as I’d certainly not thought to include the old masters or more modern paintings previously in this group. It would be impossible to claim that the later photographic selfies none of these are not art, as of course they are all self-portraits. Personally I think the exhibition has as much to say about the advancement of the camera technology contained in a mobile phone as it does of the evolution of the selfie.


ARTnews, T. (2017). 9 Art Events to Attend in New York City This Week | ARTnews. [online] ARTnews. Available at: http://www.artnews.com/2015/12/07/9-art-events-to-attend-in-new-york-city-this-week-43/ [Accessed 8 Aug. 2017].

BBC News. (2017). Monkey selfie is mine, UK photographer argues – BBC News. [online] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-34346092 [Accessed 9 Aug. 2017].

Brown, M. (2017). Selfie as art at Saatchi gallery: from Rembrandt to a grinning macaque. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/mar/30/selfie-as-art-at-saatchi-gallery-from-rembrandt-to-a-grinning-macaque [Accessed 6 Aug. 2017].

Fridakahlo.org. (2017). The Wounded Deer, 1946 by Frida Kahlo. [online] Available at: https://www.fridakahlo.org/the-wounded-deer.jsp [Accessed 8 Aug. 2017].

galleryIntell. (2017). The Desperate Man by Gustave Courbet – galleryIntell. [online] Available at: http://www.galleryintell.com/artex/the-desperate-man-gustave-courbet/ [Accessed 8 Aug. 2017].

Hmoong, K. (2017). George Harrison’s fisheye self-portraits in India, 1966. [online] Shootingfilm.net. Available at: http://www.shootingfilm.net/2013/09/george-harrisons-fisheye-self-portraits.html [Accessed 8 Aug. 2017].

Moellerfineart.com. (2017). Victor Obsatz’s Portrait of Marcel Duchamp – The Shop – Moeller Fine Art. [online] Available at: http://www.moellerfineart.com/moeller-fine-art/the-shop/victor-obsatzs-portrait-of-marcel-duchamp [Accessed 6 Aug. 2017].

NBC News. (2017). Run! Photo of thrill seeker’s selfie video while chased by bulls goes viral. [online] Available at: http://www.nbcnews.com/technology/run-photo-thrill-seekers-selfie-video-while-chased-bulls-goes-2D12054058 [Accessed 9 Aug. 2017].

Pictify. (2017). Bruce Nauman: Self Portrait as a Fountain. [online] Available at: http://pictify.saatchigallery.com/38608/bruce-nauman-self-portrait-as-a-fountain [Accessed 9 Aug. 2017].

The Courtauld Institute of Art. (2017). Vincent Van Gogh, Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear. [online] Available at: http://courtauld.ac.uk/gallery/collection/impressionism-post-impressionism/vincent-van-gogh-self-portrait-with-bandaged-ear [Accessed 8 Aug. 2017].

The Guardian. (2017). Fairground attraction: Shoot! Existential Photography exhibition – in pictures. [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2012/oct/11/shoot-existential-photography-in-pictures [Accessed 9 Aug. 2017].

Please note: Any images by other photographers used on this site are accredited and are being used for personal research and educational purposes only.



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