The word ‘selfie’ – colloq. (orig. Austral.) – entered the Oxford English Dictionary in June 2014, having been declared word of the year at the end of 2013. ‘A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media’ is how the OED describes it. The earliest citation for the word is from 2002. The internet had by then been messing with modes of popular self-presentation for several years. Nicholas Mirzoeff, in his ambitious – too ambitious – survey of contemporary image-making, calls the selfie ‘the first visual product of the new networked, urban global youth culture’ and writes of the ‘evolution of the self-portrait into the omnipresent selfie’. This last remark suggests he has an odd conception of ‘evolution’, which ignores the long history of photographic self-portraiture – there’s not a mention of the fun once had with photo booths – in favour of a thrilled insistence on the exceptionalism of today’s selfie-conscious culture.
Mirzoeff, a professor of media, culture and communication at New York University, pitches his book as a guide to the visual landscape we currently inhabit, taking in modern warfare, the global city and the role of social media in activism and revolution. But How to See the World is also