From Portraiture to Selfie: Creating a Visual Memoir (55+)

What’s the history of the social media “selfie”? How does this history map to contemporary media and scholarly views on self-representation, autobiography, photography, amateurism, branding and celebrity?

Focusing on selfies, and portraits from historical and contemporary art and photography, we will explore how family and cultural history shape our image of identity, taking into account our gender, ethnicity, sexuality and socio-economic status. Tracing two themes, the global history of portraiture and the emergence of the modern idea of everyday life—routine, trivial, unconscious and unremarkable—our conversation about selfies will invite us into our own visual memoir.

Please note that enrollment in this course is reserved for adults 55+.

Currently not available for registration.

What will I learn?

Week 1

Introduction on the identity and diversity of our selfie culture. How did we get here? A selfie is a picture of an experience, a self-portrait is the experience. Looking at digital images of historical painting from daguerreotypes to contemporary photography we will consider important questions about identity, culture and technology in selfie phenomenon.

Week 2

The goal is to develop a vocabulary for talking about selfie culture that accommodates the diversity and contingency of our human experience. The commitment to visual language supports understanding of cultural meaning. As a cultural practice, selfie circulation grows by the moment, moving far beyond the cliché.

Week 3

The very nature of digital images that we circulate and share become conversations that touch our core identity. When wrestling with selfies, are we wrestling with our sense of self in community? Whether it's Kim Kardashian or your friends posting, selfies receive mixed reactions. But are selfies more than, as many critics lament, a symptom of a self-absorbed generation?

Week 4

By examining how to look at digital selfie imagery, the boundaries between our physical and digital lives blur within social media. We will be exploring questions of privacy, consent, ownership, and authenticity; and important issues of sexism and double standards to criticism and judgment.

Week 5

Selfie exposure and recognition in all media pushes the right to express ourselves freely and loudly as we please. This revelation presents confidence of hard campaigning and protesting. The beauty of social media is representation on a highly visible platform for the entire world to recognize.

Week 6

Selfies can be used as instruments of spreading both tolerance and intolerance. Identifying the positive aspects without recognizing the negative aspects results in an unfortunately unbalanced idea of the digital world. The selfie phenomenon provokes discussion about culture, race and sexism in our visual memoir.

How will I learn?

  • Lectures
  • Discussions
  • Papers (applicable only to certificate students) 

How will I be evaluated?

For certificate students only:

Your instructor will evaluate you based on an essay, which you will complete at the end of the course. You will receive a grade of “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.”

Textbooks and learning materials

Reading material (if applicable) will be available in class. Some course materials may be available online.

If you're 55+, you may take this course as part of

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