Scholarly selfies make for a memorable senior project

Admit it. Chances are, you’ve taken a selfie before. Perhaps you are even a connoisseur of selfies, from cute to silly to thoughtful to panicked. But how often do you think about what your selfies are saying about who you are?

Emma Flood ’15 does more than think about selfies. She analyzes them through a multidisciplinary lens for her senior honors project through the Antonian Honors Program, “To Be Seen For Oneself(ie): The Radical Potential of the Selfie Within Visual Culture.”

For Flood, the capstone experience of her undergraduate years is more than a way to synthesize her double major in Art History and Philosophy and minor in Women and the Arts. It’s also a way to establish herself as a scholar and bring light to relevant social issues.

The definition of selfie, for Flood, is an image we create that we ourselves can control. Taking a selfie says, “This is who I am. I don’t have to be the way you want me to be,” Flood said. The person taking the selfie determines what they value in themselves, and what they want to share about themselves.

“Selfies are images of us, and because they are images of us, they have this potential—potential, because not all selfies are profound—to become a version of ourselves,” Flood said.

Flood focused on three of the many gender roles that women have historically been forced to fill: Maternal caretaker, Beauty, and Serious Artist. Comparing selfies to self-portraits, Flood found that the combination of identities that selfies allow to coexist creates a more authentic description of who we are, shattering those gender roles. Selfies allow women to show different identities on different days.

For her research, Flood looked at selfies as a millennial, an art historian, and as a philosopher. Selfies are an undervalued topic of study for serious scholars, so Flood’s research is on the cutting edge of her field.

“It’s fun to apply art history in a way it hasn’t been applied before,” Flood said.

As an art historian interested in women and art, Flood began looking at selfies and asking if we had seen them before in self-portraits by women artists. Dr. Amy K. Hamlin is Flood’s faculty adviser for the project, as well as the professor for “Women in Art,” the class that inspired Flood as a first year student at St. Kate’s and again as a teaching assistant. Through the class, Flood discovered important woman artists who created their own images in art instead of being objectified as someone else’s muse.

“Selfie” was the 2013 Oxford English Dictionary word of the year, and the talk around it made Flood interested in pursuing scholarly study on the topic. She saw posts ranting against selfies online, and in the comments, millennials kept saying, “never apologize for selfies.” There wasn’t much in the way of formal research happening, and Flood decided she would fill that gap with her own research.

In conjunction with writing a research paper and presenting her work, Flood compiled a visual essay of self-portraits and selfies. Some selfies are of herself and people she knows, and some are anonymous.

Flood said that working on her project has been a challenging, fantastic experience. It was a much bigger project than she initially realized, but Hamlin, and Flood’s honors committee, Amy Hilden, Pat Olson, and Susan Welch, supported her hard work.

Analyzing selfies and self-portraits during the course of this project has changed her. Flood is now more aware of the conventions found in her own selfies and her friends’ selfies, more aware of the reasons behind taking and posting those selfies, and more aware of their existence.

“I think I don’t like selfies as much as I did, but the thing is, I don’t think that matters anymore. What matters is that someone is talking about this, looking at selfies as something more than can be seen on the surface, because they’re here to stay—because social media is here to stay,” Flood said.

Flood’s presentation, “To Be Seen For Oneself(ie): The Radical Potential of the Selfie Within Visual Culture,” will take place on Tuesday, March 10 at 11:45 a.m. in Art Building 102.

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