Victoria Cooper+Doug Spowart Blog

SELFIES: A history according to Doug & Others

with 4 comments

Darren & Doug 'Selfie' @ Imagery Gallery C1987

Darren & Doug ‘Selfie’ @ Imagery Gallery c1987


This recent Facebook post of a photo I made with Darren Jew in 1987 resulted in discussion around the idea of the ‘Selfie’ and my early connection with the technique. Around 12 years ago I discussed my inspiration and work with self-imaging in a university thesis – For your interest I publish the text here and add some images that date from my use of ‘Selfies’ in the 1980s.

For me the term ‘Selfie’ is a self image made by holding the camera at an arms length and angled back towards the photographer.


Doug selfie @Birdsville 1983

Doin’ a selfie @ Birdsville 1983


Self imagineering and portraits  (now called Selfies)


For some time my photography has included the self-portrait.  The inspiration came from a friend (John Elliott) in the early 1980s who held up the camera before himself and friends and then fired the shutter.  He attributed his use of the technique to Jean Pigozzi a Hollywood paparazzi photographer who employed this method to make pictures which showed himself posing with the rich and famous subjects he photographed. In the book Pigozzi’s Journal of the Seventies Jann Wenner, then the Editor of Rolling Stone magazine, was to write in his introduction a description Pigozzi’s self-portraits as being: the ultimate fantasy of the fan in everyone: A picture of yourself with your favourite star. Conquests! Self-immortalisation!


Jean Pigozzi with Rod Stewart

Rod Stewart with Jean Pigozzi


My use of the technique was basically to make images documenting myself at tourist locations as I travelled usually as a photo tour leader. Perhaps I was a ‘fan’ of the location, the location was one of my ‘conquests’, or maybe I sought ‘self-immortalisation’ through the photo – whatever. For me it just seemed the logical way of resolving problems relating to the imaging of personal experiences.

Using a 35mm Leica rangefinder camera with 35mm, and later with a 21mm lens, enabled wide angled views and sufficient depth of field to achieve the view I wanted. These self-portrait images often exhibit a random approach to composition as precise viewfinder alignment was not possible. I took care not to ‘dress up’ for the photograph so my appearance is what it was – no brushing of the hair, no straightening of the collar. They are, as intended, frank and factual.


Brishing off flies, Barry Caves NT, 1982

Waving away flies, Barry Caves NT, 1982


In time these images formed a collection of “This is me at. . .“ pictures. They were a kind of “Foo was here” with me being the Foo graffiti figure. On occasions the only reason I would stop and photograph at a particular location was to capture another self-portrait for the collection. Sontag in her book On Photography alludes to this modus operandi in her comment that: Travel becomes a strategy for accumulating photographs. Travel and self-imagineering was indeed to put me in situations where I could produce photographs that told of my experience – often in a humorous way.


Riding a dragon doin' a selfie, China 1989

Riding a dragon and doin’ a selfie, China 1989


With Vicky & helicopter pilot, Heartbreak Hotel NT c1992

With Vicky & helicopter pilot, Heartbreak Hotel NT c1992


There were other aspects pertaining to self-imagineering work which encouraged my practice. I found that thrusting the camera before myself and in front of tourists assembled at the place of visitation was a kind of art performance. It was a spontaneous act; a celebration of experience that culminated in the ritual of photo taking. Self-imaging was crammed with fun and triviality. And having fun, and being seen to have fun and capturing that fun were certainly part of the agenda that drove my interest in this activity. The technique often caught on and doin’ a self-portrait became part of my fellow tourist’s recording rituals as well.


Mark, Tony & Rob doin' Selfies @ the Qld NY Birder 1983

Tony, Rob and Mark doin’ Selfies @ the Qld NT Border 1983


Abridged from a Graduate Diploma thesis entitled My Shadow and I by Doug Spowart 2002. The thesis contains a discussion on the artist as tourist and the self-image as a document of personal experience.




Selfie shadows with camera and ring-pulls, Alice Springs 1982

Selfie shadows with camera and ring-pulls, Alice Springs 1982


Self-port doug-72

‘Che’ (Doug) Selfie with Tony & Mark @ Three Ways NT, 1983


Doug asleep on the coach after Steiglitz

On a coach in Central Australia 1982



Texas town errects ‘selfies’ statue…







A RECENT ADDITION TO THE DISCUSION ON ‘SELFIES’ (Although I’d say it was a self portrait)









Images and text © Doug Spowart



Creative Commons-by-nc-nd.eu

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.





4 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Freakin funny. Love it. So it all started with you Doug.


    October 29, 2013 at 8:47 am

  2. I never knew we were starting a world-wide trend back then! Might still have some of those photos kicking around. I remember taking photos of myself on world trips in the early 70s. Whoops, just indicated I might be older than most readers of this comment!!!!!!! Keep posting Doug. Man we all looked so young in the photos too.

    Ian Hodgkiss

    October 30, 2013 at 8:58 am

    • G’Day Ian – It is interesting to think how selfies are so accessible now -one of the things was that photographers had access to wide angle lenses whereas most cameras people used had 50mm lenses. So we could get the angle of view to do it — And also the depth of field. You should put up some of the old selfies. Cheers Doug

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: