AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
And now the art of the perfect selfie. It's time for All Tech Considered.
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CORNISH: The smartphone has given us a whole new genre of cultural expression - the selfie. And if you're into selfies, it's safe to say you've probably taken one and wish you didn't have those dark circles under your eyes. Now, there are plenty of apps out there to fix that, along with wrinkles, pimples, the shape of your eyes and even how tall you are. While some say selfies are a mark of our narcissistic culture, what about a little Photoshopping? Should that be taken as further evidence of our vanity? Sarah Jacobsson Purewal is a technology writer and, fair to say, a selfie enthusiast, right there, Sarah?
SARAH JACOBSSON PUREWAL: That's correct.
CORNISH: You've reviewed a bunch of selfie-editing apps for Macworld. I want you to tell us a little bit about what's out there for those who want to improve their appearance before a post and maybe don't want to just take a thousand selfies and choose the best one.
PUREWAL: Well, there are actually a whole bunch of different apps that you can use to edit your selfies. You can do everything from sort of Photoshopping your face so that you have, you know, clearer skin and fewer wrinkles and the dark circles go away, to even making yourself taller - although, admittedly, those apps don't do as good of a job - or to making yourself skinnier. There are even apps that, you know, put overlays over your photos so that you look a little bit more artistic, like you have better lighting. You don't really have to take the perfect selfie in order to get the perfect selfie to post on Instagram.
CORNISH: I don't know if you edit your own selfies, but do you have a favorite program?
PUREWAL: I actually - I do edit my selfies occasionally, just because after I discovered that there were so many apps that can, you know, make you look so much better, I felt like I was kind of not doing myself a favor by posting unedited selfies to Instagram. I really like YouCam Perfect and YouCam Makeup. One does more of the basic Photoshopping while the other one actually adds makeup to your face. So if I feel like my makeup is not on point that day, I can add, you know, a little extra mascara or blush or whatever to make me look prettier (laughter).
CORNISH: Now, for some people, it sounds a little vain to edit your selfies. But for you, you say the pictures are part of a person's personal brand.
PUREWAL: Yeah, absolutely. I think that while a lot of people find it easy to say, well, you're taking a photo of yourself and you're posting it online for people to sort of rate, I could see how that superficially looks like vanity. At the same time, I think that it really gives a lot of the younger generation a platform to express themselves without being incredibly harshly judged. Because the selfie is such a casual form of expression, no one is going to expect you to look absolutely perfect.
CORNISH: That's Sarah Jacobsson Purewal. She's a freelance tech writer. Sarah, thanks so much.
PUREWAL: Thank you for having me.
MOLLY SODA: I've been taking photos of myself since I could get my hands on a camera when I was about 14, and putting it all online.
CORNISH: Now we turn to Detroit-based visual artist Molly Soda. She's 26. She's won recognition for her provocative digital collages, animated art, videos and Tumblr posts. To her, selfies are a new version of the old idea of the self-portrait. Molly Soda is also among those who do not clean up their selfies. She's going for an unvarnished, alternative look. Soda has piercings and candy-colored hair. She wears bold lipstick and heavy eyeliner. Her clothes and her props are eclectic. In one selfie, she's taking a swig from an oversized coffee mug. It's labeled male tears. She's also posed with Taco Bell Crunchwrap Supremes, a giant teddy bear, and she showcased her body before a mirror - unshaven, clothed and partially clothed.
SODA: A lot of the photos that I take and a lot of the work that I make is made in my bedroom and it is about girls in their bedrooms and what you do alone in your room and making that public, putting that out for the world to see and how that changes the way that it's seen or contextualized.
CORNISH: In one of your latest projects, it's kind of a play on a tabloid story, right? The leaked selfie - naked pictures of young actresses have been hacked from their phones and distributed online, usually without their consent. And many of those actresses have spoken of this as a violation.
CORNISH: In your project, you "leak" quote, unquote, nude images of yourself.
CORNISH: What's going on there? I mean, how is this in some way making a statement on that or taking back control?
SODA: It is about control. I don't send nude images to people, and I don't do that because I'm afraid that they will be leaked. And it was sort of like how would I feel if I sent naked photos of myself and then they got leaked? So instead, I sort of thought, OK, well, I'll just take all these photos that I have of myself that I've taken and sent to no one and leak them myself.
CORNISH: How do you think people should think about the selfie, if you wanted people to kind of look at it in a different way, in the context of art?
SODA: Well, I think - I don't understand really the backlash of selfie culture or why people are so concerned by it or negative about it because I think a selfie is a really, really positive thing. Whether or not it's art, it's a super positive, like, affirmation of self-love. And taking your photo and putting it on the Internet for the world to see is an act of positivity.
CORNISH: Not an act of vanity.
SODA: Well, I don't think there's anything wrong with being a little bit vain. I think we all are, and I think it just - we all express it differently, and maybe some people are a little bit better about hiding it. But when I'm scrolling on my Instagram and I see a photo of a girl that she took of herself and I know she's feeling really good that day about herself, that makes me feel good. And that makes me want to photograph myself, and I think it's a chain reaction.
CORNISH: What's your thinking about whether or not it's OK to edit them? How much do you edit yours?
SODA: I actually don't edit my cellphone photos. The most I'll edit is to crop maybe, but I don't put anything on my photos.
CORNISH: There's, like, a hashtag #Brave or something, right? I mean, I feel like people go out of their way to make their selfies look really good. I guess it's almost a statement not to.
SODA: I think it's kind of - I don't think there's anything wrong with editing your photos. So many photos that we see in magazines and billboards and whatever, like, all of that is edited, and you kind of tend to forget that. You're always kind of striving for this ideal that isn't real. And so I understand why people feel compelled to edit their photos.
CORNISH: In a way, it sounds like you're saying the selfie challenges all that - all that imagery that we are bombarded with every day.
SODA: Exactly 'cause I'm seeing people that are just as beautiful, but they look like someone I would be friends with.
CORNISH: Well, Molly Soda, thank you so much for talking with us.
CORNISH: Digital artist Molly Soda on the art of the selfie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.