self portraits

'Experts' blame selfie culture for a rise in cosmetic surgery

Early this morning* I was perusing the BBC website, as I am wont to do every morning, when my eye fell upon the regular round-up of the newspapers and a headline in the Metro. Now, I am not accustomed to reading the Metro—it's aimed at metropolitan commuters and I, therefore, do not fall within its target demographic—but this headline had me rushing to its website.

Selfies blamed for plastic surgery rise

According to 'experts', the Metro doesn't care to enlighten us whom these experts are, 'The relentless rise of the mobile phone pictures, coupled with a fixation on celebrity culture, creates unrealistic expectations.' Furthermore, one-in-three US plastic surgeons has reported an increase in requests for plastic surgery from patients whose desire for intervention is based on looks-aware social media. One-in-seven US facial plastic surgeons has reported 'selfie pressure' as a common trend that had grown in the past year.

This trend is similarly noticable in the UK. The Metro cites Marc Pacifico, from the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, who claims that young people feel under 'incessant pressure' to conform to idealised images of beauty and compare themselves to celebrity images and those that have been digitally enhanced.

Apparently, there has been a ten per cent rise in nose jobs and seven per cent increase in the number of hair transplants over the past year.

Pacifico is of the opinion that if the current trend to take selfies continues it will result in people who are unaccepting of normal variations in appearance.

Shall we just put the brakes on this runaway train of an idea for the moment? While self-portraits might be making people increasingly aware of their appearance, and perchance more critical of it when their photos spread far and wide via Facebook and Twitter and can be compared to perfectly primped and preened personalities, to lay the blame squarely at their shutters for an increase in requests for cosmetic surgery fails to look at the big picture. (Pun shamelessly intended.)

Our appearances have been under scrutiny for millennia, and there have been mirrors and looking glasses to aid in self-scrutiny for just as long. As a consequence we've been comparing our appearances with other people, and going to ridiculous lengths to preserve them, for generations. Elizabethan lead skin whitener, anyone? Or the obsession with the Vidal Sassoon-Mary Quant assymmetric cut in the 1960s? This is not new, but our visually intensive culture does mean that we are subject to unrealistic presentations of perfection and our own short-comings.

Selfies aren't the direct cause of people feeling inadequate in their bodies; they're one of the many vehicles that transport people to a skewed confrontation with their appearances.

Herein is the real issue. It's the expectation of perfection and the inability to separate everyday reality from Hollywood fantasy that leaves people feeling as if they aren't, somehow, perfect as they are. Just I have argued concerning the use of Photoshop and image manipulation in magazines, the key to better body confidence is in education. It's about an understanding that we're all different and that none of us is perfect. Not one.

But do you know what I find even more disturbing than the insinuation that it's the selfie that can be blamed for an increase in the desire for cosmetic surgery? It's the frequency with which cosmetic surgery is presented as an accessible and normal solution for problems that exist in people's heads. When a doctor who wishes to bring affordable cosmetic surgery to the masses wins the BBC primetime TV show The Apprentice and when cosmetic surgery clinics and procedures are advertised on daytime television, it makes me think that people's emotions are manipulated more than their images are.

So instead of lamenting Pacifico's comments on the threat of the selfie to people's tolerance of normal variation in appearance, shouldn't we be using the selfie to celebrate that we're different? To revel in hair that's dark or blonde; curly or straight. To appreciate tall people and short people. To wonder in amazement at different skin tones. To actually take stock that we're all different and that's rather amazing.

(The BBC and the Metro)

* It's now yesterday morning, but nevermind.

'Shooting Yourself' goes on sale this week!

We're nothing if not collaborative here at Photocritic, and Shooting Yourself is a great example of that - containing photos of around a hundred self-portraiture artists, curated by yours truly, and with a big load of input from Daniela (also of Photocritic fame)... It's one big orgy of words, pictures, and - yes - self portraits! Find out more over on my other website, and pre-order your copy from your favourite bookshop. If you can't wait, or if you prefer a digital copy, you can grab a virtual copy of Shooting Yourself from Ilex Instant. You've got to hurry, though, I hear Ilex Instant is about to run out! (I jest, I jest... Adam, my publisher over at Ilex, ensures me that they have plenty of digital stock)

What are you waiting for? Shuffle over and grab your copy today!

A tiltpod? What's a tiltpod?

When I was first asked if I'd test-drive a tiltpod, I shrugged my shoulders and thought 'Why not?' A portable, tiltable compact camera or iPhone securing device? There are worse things I could be asked to do, even if I weren't quite sure how I'd end up using them.

About a month on, I love my iPhone tiltpod and I can see the benefit of the compact camera version.

Tiltpods come with a lightweight, magnetic base that's set with a small socket, and a corresponding magnetic ball joint that either screws into the tripod mount of your compact camera or has a slot for your iPhone 4 or 4S. The ball sits in the socket, is held there by the marvel that is magnetism, and being a ball-and-socket, rotates. Rather than being tripods, they're more like gastropods, I suppose.

The camera version's base attaches to your camera via a lanyard and the ball joint is unobtrusive enough to live permanently in the tripod mount. (If you've an off-centred tripod mount, there is a sticky ball joint, instead.) It's a clever bit of design: the chances of losing one bit or the other have been diminished whilst the possibility of actually using it is increased by virtue of it always being there. As for the iPhone version, it can dangle most comfortably from your keyring.

Now that the ergonomics have been covered, what about using the things? Quite serendipitously, a project that is currently consuming just about all of my waking moments has demanded a heap of iPhoneography recently. The tiltpod has proved its mettle here, especially when it came to self-portraits. Find a flat surface, set the angle, use your self-timer function of choice, and away you go. Even if you don't need to be quite so artistically-inclined as my endeavours, a tiltpod is still ideal for grabbing photos of you and your beloveds, instead of pictures with oddly angled arms or devoid of one of your party.

Or you could just use it for Facetiming, if that's more your thing.

As for the camera version, it's pretty much the same deal. Find your surface, set it up, off you go. I've not had any issues with wobble, slide, or slip, and positioning it has been a question of how daring I've felt.

Tiltpods aren't without their limitations, though. Unless you magnetically attach the base to a radiator, lamppost, or railing, you're restricted to taking landscape oriented photos with the camera version. Whether or not you've the stomach to dangle your P310 from a balustrade via a magnet is up to you. I mean, I tried it, in the interests in writing a review, but I don't know if I'd be prepared to step beyond catching distance of my camera lest gravity get the better of it. (The tiltpod team does point out you can always attach the sticky ball joint to your camera to facilitate vertically-oriented shooting, but if you're already using the sticky foot, you can't. And you might not want to stick a sticky foot to your camera, either.)

If you precision-angle your iPhone, you can stand it vertically in its tiltpod. This set up does, however, feel a little precarious for my comfort. I would have apreciated just a little more depth and width in the base, so that I could use it to take portraits and not have to worry about my iPhone tumbling into oblivion, or have my iPhone standing up on my desk without fear of it toppling over should a door slam. Still, it hasn't stopped me from using the tiltpod to cradle my phone on my desk horizontally.

Finally, they do need to sit on a surface: a wall, a shelf, a nest of tables that I stacked one of top of another to gain sufficient height for one particular photo. But the problem itself isn't insurmountable (although my furniture obstacle course might have been) and it's the trade-off for their significant advantage over other camera-stabilising devices: they are emininetly portable.

The camera version stays attached to your camera, so it goes with you (and your camera) automatically. The iPhone version attaches to your keyring. They're designed to be used, not left languishing in a drawer or at the bottom of a bag.

At a smidge under $15 each, a tiltpod doesn't break the bank, although I'll admit that I probably wouldn't have gone out and bought one for myself. I am, though, very happy to have them in my possession. If you do lots of iPhoneography (or Facetime frequently), the iPhone version is worth it. And I reckon that they make pretty nifty presents, too.

Tiltpods are available from Gomite's webstore, costing $14.95 each.

Disclaimer: Gomite did send me two unsolicited review models. I didn't pay for them and I have been allowed to keep them.

iPad version 2; with cameras x 2


Apple made us wait for a camera on the iPad, but when it came, they gave us not one, but two of them. Yep, there’re both front- and back-facing cameras on the new tactile tablet. Self-portraits, video-calls (or Face-Timing, in Apple-speak), and photos taken with a device measuring 24×17.5cm are go. And so is Photo Booth. I do like Photo Booth. I can turn myself all Andy Warhol.

The back camera has a 5x digital zoom and 720p HD video recording capability to 30fps with audio. The front camera gives you VGA-quality stills and VGA video at 30fps with audio. Exposure is touch-controlled, and when you want to manipulate your Photo Booth images that’s done with touch, too.

Seeing as you can make videos on this here iPad2, you can edit them with iMovie. Makes sense. Then you can share them on YouTube or Vimeo or FaceBook or, or, or…

Front- and back-facing cameras for 'Face-Timing'

I was terribly restrained when the original iPad came out and repeatedly told myself that no, I really didn’t need one. But I’m not so sure I can convince myself otherwise with this shiny beast. Especially as Apple have said that it’ll be shipping at the same price as iPad version 1. And it comes in white from day 1. And it’s 33% thinner than the original one. And I’m just going to shut up now.

iPad2, available 11 March 2011, starting at $499. All the details from Apple.

15 fabulous photobooks

IMG_0064 copy

Whilst I was researching small gifts suitable for photographers, I ran into so many books that would make fabulous presents I decided that they deserved a post of their own. Oh yeah, this is it.

I’ve tried to include books that cut across different styles of photography, as well as suggest technical and coffee table books. Hopefully, there is something here to appeal to everyone, and if you’ve any burning suggestions, then please let us know!

The Art of Black and White Photography, by Torsten Andreas Hoffman

This book begins at the beginning, looking at cameras and equipment, and works right the way through different genres and styles of photography – including portraits, abstracts, and street photography – the technical elements of how to compose a picture, and ends with post-processing. It feels comprehensive but isn’t overwhelming; if you want to refer to one specific section, it’s easy enough to do that. And it is full of lots of lovely pictures.

Currently £22.43 on Amazon UK and $29.67 on Amazon US.

Auto Focus, by Susan Bright

How many different forms can self-portraiture take? Susan Bright looks at series of self-portraits shot by seventy-five photographers from across the world. They cover autobiography, they explore the human body, they consider portraiture as a performance, and they use masks and masquerade. It’s a fascinating exploration of identity and self-expression.

At present £23.80 from Amazon UK and $37.80 from Amazon US.

Decade, by Eamonn McCabe and Terence McNamee

This book charts the first decade of the 21st century in pictures, illustrating everything from pop sensations bouncing on stage to disembodied heads being toted as war trophies in some of the world’s most troubled countries. Sometimes it’s amusing, sometimes it’s shocking, but is a gorgeous retrospective of ten years of world events.

Currently £16.22 on Amazon UK and $26.37 on Amazon US.

The Hotshoe Diaries, by Joe McNally

If photography is all about painting with light, then we need at least one book that looks at lighting. And seeing as we can’t all afford big lighting rigs, this will take you through using SpeedLites to get the most out of your pictures. Maybe with the odd bedsheet or reflector thrown in for good measure. Not only do you get great pictures in this book, you also get diagrams, some of them drawn on napkins!

At the moment: £13 from Amazon UK and $26.39 from Amazon US.

In My Mind’s Eye, by Charlie Waite

This is a gorgeous collection of black and white photographs. Mostly they are landscapes and still lifes, but there are some portraits, too. Definitely something to flick through if you want to escape for a moment or ten.

£12.99 from Amazon UK or £17.96 from Amazon US.

Langford’s Basic Photography, by Michael Langford, Anna Fox, and Richard Sawdon Smith

There are so many ‘complete guides’ or ‘introductions’ to digital photography out there that it is quite overwhelming. If your camera isn’t already confusing you, the number of books telling you what you should be doing will. This book is now on its ninth edition, having first been released in 1965, and has shepherded many budding photographers through their early days. It must be doing something right.

£17.59 from Amazon UK or $28.76 from Amazon US.

Macro Photography Photo Workshop, by Haje Jan Kamps

You might call me biased, but this is the best introduction to macro photography out there. Whatever teeny-tiny things you want to photograph, from droplets to spiders to eyes, this book will take you through the process, giving you examples and exercises along the way.

Currently £10 from Amazon UK or $21.89 from Amazon US.

The New Antiquity, by Tim Davis

I’m a great believer in the value of seemingly mundane photographs: shards or fragments of the prosaic preserved for future generations to use as insights into our lives. This book examines just that: the slivers of our world that will one day form the record of what will then be our ancient existence.

£29.71 from Amazon UK or $30.40 from Amazon US at present.

Norman Parkinson: Portraits in Fashion, by Robin Muir

Ooh this book is full of deliciousness. It’s a retrospective of Parkinson’s work as a fashion photographer, from the 1940s to the 1980s. Every image is the perfect embodiment of its age, from 1960s pillbox hats and swing coats to 1980s loud eye makeup and shoulder pads. Mmm.

£9.74 from Amazon UK or $19.44 via Amazon US.

Photobox, by Roberto Koch

I suppose that the easiest way to describe this book is that it is an encyclopaedia of photographers. It’s divided into different genres, with photographers who practised that art form listed there with a short biography and an example of her or his work. It’s the sort of slightly geeky information-fest that appeals to me, I suppose.

Currently £12.97 from Amazon UK or $19.77 from Amazon US.

The Photographer’s Guide to Landscapes, by John Freeman

I looked at a lot of books that covered landscape photography, but this was the one that I would’ve taken home for myself. It’s divided into three sections. The first looks at the technical elements of landscape photography, from how to compose a picture, which lenses to use, and what sort of ISO and shutterspeed to worry about. Then it looks at actual landscapes, and how best to capture them, whether they feature water, sand, or sky, are urban or rural. Then it takes you through the post-processing malarky. Beginning to end landscapes.

£14.44 from Amazon UK or $19.95 from Amazon US.

Photographing People Like a Pro, by Rod Edwards

If I thought that there were a lot of landscape books out there, then I must’ve looked at them before I almost collapsed under the portraiture guides. Want to know why I rejected most of them? (If you don’t, I’m going to tell you anyway.) I didn’t like the pictures in them. Seriously, if I were to pay for a portrait session that came out like some of the pictures in those books, I’d be deeply unhappy. This book, though, I could get along with. I liked its simple format and its progressive nature. It started with equipment, it moved on to designing an image, then it examined light before looking at how to work with the people you’re photographing, and it finished with post-processing.

Roughly £34 from Amazon UK or $52 from Amazon US.

Simply Beautiful Photographs, by Annie Griffiths

The title says it all: this is 500 pages of beautiful photographs that have been compiled from the National Geographic archives by Annie Griffiths. I defy you not to find an image that will take away your breath.

£11.54 from Amazon UK or $23.10 from Amazon US.

The Visual Dictionary of Photography, by David Präkel

This book is a stroke of genius. Seeing as photography is a visual medium, it explains technical terms from ‘abstract’ to ‘zoom lens’ using pictures as well as words.

£9.72 from Amazon UK or $18.96 from Amazon US.

The Wild Side of Photography, by Cyrill Harnischmacher

Run out of inspiration? (Really?) Fancy trying underwater photography? How about aerial photography? Want to give a time-lapse a go? Ever felt the need to look for unusual print media for your images? This books has it all: written instructions, diagrams, and pictures. You won’t be uninspired for very much longer. Or perhaps you’re just a photographic dare-devil!

£16.09 from Amazon UK or $19.77 from Amazon US.

Now, all the prices were what Amazon was quoting when I wrote this. Of course, I can’t promise that they’ll stay that way.