It’s not a ‘selfie’…

…it’s ‘doing a Liz’.

The other week’s heartfelt description of some of my amazing friends resulted in a trip down blog memory lane. [It also resulted in more shares than almost any other blogpost; two references to lizclutterbuck.com in wedding speeches; and making a record number of people cry. I aim to please…] In re-reading previous GWA (Girls’ Weekend Away) posts, I realised the point at which I began to be mocked for taking self-portraits and when the phrase “doing a Liz” came into common parlance amongst my circles of friends. (I love that Jenni also spotted this.)

Doing a Liz

This was in 2008. By 2010, my friends were borrowing my camera in order to their own “doing a Liz” at Greenbelt. When making new friends, this habit soon became known by the same name – only the other week a Matryoshka Haus friend shared a link to some extreme self-portraits with me, suggesting I needed to put some more work into my habit.

But alas, the term is not known globally. Instead, this practice has taken up a word first used on Flickr in 2004 and this year, its rise to attention has been meteoric – 2013 has been dubbed ‘the year of the selfie’.

Last year, #selfie wasn’t even in the top 100 hashtags on Instagram, since January, its use has grown 200%. When you put together all the top selfie-related hashtags on Instagram, there are over 40million photos. That’s a lot of faces. In the world of celebrity, Miley Cyrus has posted more than any other celebrity on Twitter. [Does this mean I’m comparing myself with Miley Cyrus, oh dear…] To top off the year, the word has also entered the OED – the demarcation that it is an official word.

This summer, I noticed that the selfie had become a negative mark of society, used by speakers at Christian conferences to decry the ‘me, me, me’ culture of today’s society. Are we more interested in ourselves than our relationship with God? With other people?

Last Sunday, The Observer featured a piece on Instagram and selfies, arguing that it’s a place where we think we’re showing how good our life is, when really, the cracks we’re trying to hide can be observed:

“We’re not fools, us humans. We can read a picture of you thumbs-upping with an elaborate cocktail as both a document of a glamorous night and a telegram to all acquaintances alerting us to how absolutely, completely fine you are and not thinking about your ex at all. Not at all. Fine.”

She may have had a point. However, it’s not going to change my own habit. It’s been a while since I last selfied in a public arena. I know for a fact that the last time I did a Liz on Twitter was in California – to show how hot, sweaty & proud I was after breaking my running PB on a gorgeous beach. My last Instagrammed one was the day I won tickets for The Book of Mormon. I think you’ll agree, my self-portrait habit is very much under control…

I wouldn’t say the selfie was the epitome of society’s destruction, but I’m terribly glad that ‘doing a Liz’ didn’t catch on with more than a handful of people!

STOP PRESS!
Literally 2 minutes after I pressed publish, ‘selfies at funerals’ came to my attention. This madness MUST STOP! Can we cease all references to ‘doing a Liz’ in the context of selfies now, and instead leave it to its other uses (carrying things around in one’s bra and being an independent traveller, depending upon who you speak to)?

When I was young…

This is potentially one of those terribly dorky “I love my friends” posts, but – fingers crossed – I’ll manage to rise above it. 

I’m quite proud of the longevity of several of my friendships – there are quite a few that are past the decade mark, others that are just about on 15 years, while another is fast approaching two decades. This last one is a classic ‘we met on the first day of secondary school’ friendship. As I remember it, we were sat together writing out our timetables and I was impressed that she could fit ‘geography’ into one box (as ever, it’s rather odd things that attract me to people).

Over the years our friendship’s survived severe competition in academic stakes (my diary from this period is full of references to our termly grade cards – what I got is always followed by what she got); my family’s move to the shire; university; her marriage… Often we’ll go months without seeing each other, but just recently we managed to meet three times in under two weeks.

When we were young, I felt like a total short-arse next to leggy Babs. When we met again as adults, I was delighted to discover we were pretty much the same height (and, even better, the same shoe size). Talking about this recently, she refused to believe that there had been such a difference – until she came across, and texted me, this photo last week:

Oh goodness – the 1990s were a harsh decade. And yes, that is a bum-bag. Woe is me…

The fact that she’s actually leaning on my shoulder reveals just how much of a titch I was in comparison to her! I’m pretty sure Babs was just exceptionally tall for her age and probably hasn’t grown that much since this photo was taken (July 1993, in a hypermarket car park in Boulougne, on a school day-trip to France), whereas I had my growth spurt at some point after we’d moved to the shire. I definitely wasn’t particularly short as I never suffered any of the teasing my sister did – she was so short (for ages and ages) that our Maths teacher used to joke that she could sleep in a shoe box.

Anyway, things have evened out now:

See – practically the same height. The third person in our school trio is Viv (whose recent book launch included Fish & Chips canapés) and she’s definitely tall (and was wearing heels that particular evening) – still being in touch with her is also miraculous. The three of us ended up studying history at three different University of London colleges and are now doing very different things with our identical degrees…

When Babs sent me the 1993 photo, I dug out my photo album to see what I had from the same trip. I didn’t discover much – this being an age of disposable film cameras – but amongst a blurry headshot of Babs and some other girls on a coach, I found what may possibly be the first example of me ‘doing a Liz’ (except as it’s 1993, it would be ‘doing an Elizabeth’):

I could blame the frizz on an early start & long coach journey – but that’s just its natural state. For the last decade only the good work of John Freida’s Frizz Ease has tamed it. Terrifying.
One final thing, this might be a good opportunity to publicly apologise for a reference made to Babs’ wedding on this blog – and a story I’ve shared far too widely. She didn’t have strippers at her wedding reception; they were a tasteful burlesque act and almost certainly will never be bettered in terms of wedding entertainment no matter how many nuptials I attend. 

A question of vanity and photography

Note to readers: This post may fail to come across as the intelligent, artistic debate that it’s intended to be. It may instead simply appear utterly narcissistic – but this is not my intention, honest! 

At one point while at Greenbelt, I emerged from my tent to find my friends holding a camera up and taking self portraits. When I asked what on earth they were up to, the reply came: “We’re doing a Liz”

A couple of years ago, on our second Girls’ Weekend Away, one of my friends spotted me posing for the camera in the back of the car. She found it fantastically amusing – especially when she observed me doing the same thing on later occasions.  I think at Greenbelt the girls had spotted me taking a photo and were inspired to emulate me – albeit in a mick-taking fashion. (What they didn’t seem to understand is that self-portraiture is an excellent means of checking one’s looks when in a camping situation.)

(With apologies to Matt & Ruth – you took yours landscape, so I had to crop you!) 

Is it vanity to take self-portraits? I don’t think so – I look at it more as a specific photographic art-form and an excellent way of chronicling adventures and the moving-on of time. And, to be honest, it’s only since the dawn of digital photography that it’s become easy to do it.

For example, there’s the issue of travelling solo to interesting places – how else can you document your presence?

Of course, you’ll immediately spot the problem with these photos. As travelling mementos they don’t really show the place travelled to – with the exception of bottom right (last week’s trip to the Giant’s Causeway) in which the rocks might give it away. The other three are, from top left: JFK Plaza in Philadelphia; beneath the Abraham Lincoln Memorial in DC; and in Central Park – but really, could be almost anywhere! [I should mention that in sorting out photos I found some that featured actual landmarks, but only four and I looked awful in all of them.]

A couple of years ago I discovered a very poignant use of self-portraits. Stephanie of NieNie Dialogues took regular shots of herself (and much more original ones than my own) in which she documented her family, home and love of fashion. When she was seriously injured in an air crash two years ago these photos provided solace for her four children. Now they remind her of the way life used to be, before her appearance changed dramatically. For months after she began blogging again no photos of the ‘new’ Nie appeared, until almost a year after the crash, when the first self-portrait was posted. These days they’re commonplace and show the way in which she’s gradually coming to terms with the second chance she’s been given at life. To be perfectly honest, I cried when that first photo appeared and am still humbled on a regular basis by her strength and the way in which she battles at overcoming her feelings of loss towards the way she used to look.

Now, I’m not saying that my own vain exploits are as worthy, but I do like the way in which you can document your life – through changing hairstyles/colours, to clothing choices, seasons and thinning faces. Looking through old photo albums tonight I couldn’t find any earlier than my NZ holiday in 2008, but it does appear that the frequency has increased in recent months.

So, here’s 2008-10 in self-portraiture:

GWA 08; shorter haircut; the ‘scary’ photo; shortest haircut; wet walk; Greenbelt 09; Sian’s hen; another haircut; a wedding; a rope swing; a pub toilet; fun at home; new clothes; 29th birthday am & pm; yet another haircut & birthday karaoke; Liz ‘doing a Liz’; hilarity; and finally, this evening.

Reflections

It’s deadline week at work (two deadlines, on the same day in fact), which means that my mind is tired and my fingers are less inclined to type. As a result, this week’s blogging will have been largely picture based. No apologies for this, especially as it gives me space to think on other things, but it’s good to keep up the variety.

I would dearly love to be a good photographer. I’d really like a decent SLR camera, along with the knowledge & ability to use one effectively. Because spring has sprung, I’m beginning my annual (well, second year in a row) pondering of the camera dilemma. Spending a day in the presence of a friend who knows a lot more about cameras than me (and goes for the old skool version) exacerbated this – and though there is no way I’m going down the film route (I lack the patience) it’s really got me thinking.

Anyway, I said this wouldn’t be wordy – clearly I lied… My favourite set of photos from Saturday’s expedition are entitled ‘Reflections’. A few friends find my interest in digital self-portraiture a little unnerving (or amusing) and regard it as shameless narcissism. I, on the other hand, think that it’s an interesting photographic challenge, especially when you throw the issue of reflecting glass in there too…

Yes, they’re dark. Yes, you can’t really see the subjects very well. But I think they suitably reflect the amusement that can be derived from a sofa, a piece of glass, a camera and extreme exhaustion from looking at too much art.

One further reflection on this topic – why is it that such self-portraits look so much better when the photographer is holding a ‘proper’ camera (i.e. not a tiny compact thing)? I adore this one of my fabulously talented friend Katie, which conveniently for this post also involves reflections. (Don’t assume this blog is simply thrown together without thought!) She has a proper camera and takes truly excellent photos with it – I’m jealous.