Recently we experienced the best day of 2017. If you have been living under a rock and didn’t know, Huawei and The Saatchi Gallery bought you are series of events inspired by the Selfie.
Our stay started off with a beautiful three course lunch at the Saatchi. We got to chat about all things art and the Huawei team were there to show us how good the P10 is. Every single mind was blown. The capabilities of this phone in general are incredible but of course, it was the photography capabilities were what captured our attention the most. It was as close to having a DSLR or Mirrorless Camera we have ever felt. The future really is here.
After lunch we all took the new P10 on our private tour of Huawei’s ‘From Selfie To Self Expression Exhibition with the CEO of The Saatchi Gallery; Nigel Hurst. We were awe struck with what laid before us.
We love the fact that that this exhibition is so interactive, mixing the old with the new in such a current way.
People have been able to take part in the exhibition from all over the world.
After our tour we got to experience a photography workshop with Leica photographer, Alex Lambrechts. The workshop was all about how to take great photos using the huawei P10 and Alex did a fantastic job. We can’t believe how much he crammed in an hour. The P10 uses Leica lenses so of course, Alex was the perfect fit.
After Alex’s workshop we got the chance to catch up with Nigel Hurst and ask him a few questions…
Hungry Eye: I’d like to talk about the exhibition and how the concept of displaying on television screens came about?
Nigel: It’s interesting, as you know, ‘From Selfie To Self Expression’ presented by Huawei is the first exhibition in the world to explore the history of the 16th Century old masters to the present day. What we didn’t want to do is pretend that these old master paintings were selfies, but at the same time we wanted people to experience those old master paintings in a way that the majority of the population experience images today. So for us, it was fun for people to walk into gallery one and have the opportunity to ‘like’ Rembrandt or Van Gogh and many others. You don’t get the opportunity to do that at school. High culture is taken so seriously, it’s our history.
We’re getting a very young demographic coming in, generally. The audience is also very large. It’s attracted 430,000 visitors to date. It’s been really interesting to see how people engage with the artworks but, primarily we wanted to do a digital experience with the odd physical artwork thrown in as a deliberate counterbalance. Of course, we weren’t going to get those old master paintings for an exhibition, but thank goodness we didn’t try to. I think that having those images scrolling as if there is invisible finger wafting over the screen as it would on your smartphone is a statement. We’re not pretending that this is an exhibition about high art. The great thing about it is that you can engage on so many different levels. A real visual level, a user generated content level. It’s fun but at the same time if you think about the story, there are many different stories within it in terms of our historic need as a species over the last 500 years and longer, to create images of ourselves and find ever more inventive ways of sharing those images with each other.
HE: I absolutely love what I call the CCTV room. How did this concept come to fruition? It was just mind-blowing.
Nigel: Two things made this project happen. A long time ago a friend of mine came to me and there was no form, no idea really, it was just “have you ever thought of doing a selfie show?” I think what she thought was that it would either be selfies from the internet or maybe just one room of people with selfies. There were two turning points for me, the first of which was seeing and standing in front of Las Meninas for the first time, which is of course, a very famous painting. This would of first and foremost been about the Royal Family but the only thing you actually see of the King and Queen is their reflection in a mirror at the back of the room so you can see what he’s painting. But you see the back on his canvas, the brush and he is the biggest figure in the room. He’s where your eye is led to. It’s very much him saying “look, this is the Royal Court, I am the Royal painter, you can see the reflection of the Royal couple so you can see that I’m painting them but I’m the daddy. You don’t get to share this view of the world in which I live.” The second part was seeing Zoom Pavillion by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer in 2016.
The joy for me was being in a busy room full of people who were under surveillance, being documented, having their faces and the data captured and being put up on a screen, but couldn’t stop themselves on their phones. There were all these people talking selfies, which for me, just felt like a perfect circle. I thought the piece had a real beauty in a dystopian kind of way.
Hungry Eye: Most people class a selfie as a photo of themselves taken on a phone. What do you see as the definition of a selfie?
Nigel: I don’t feel that there has to be a definition as such but I do feel this exhibition does throw up is the distinction between a self-portrait and a selfie. If you look at someone like Rembrandt, it’s an existential exercise. His humanity, how he shares that humanity, what his face and demeanor says about his character, the aging process; It’s done in a very skillful way. Selfies conversely tend to be construct. It’s not a bad thing but it’s far more about how we would like to be seen and how would like to be perceived. They can be taken in locations that aren’t a part of our normal lives, whether it’s on holiday or exotic locations, or a lifestyle moment that is a particular highlight so it’s showing them in a particular context. Some of them are on the spur of the moment but a lot of pre-production can go into them as well.
Hungry Eye: Do you think the current selfie culture is a positive thing? I love what the exhibition is doing, showing everything in a different light and broadening people’s minds, but also it has a negative side to it. When people construct things too much, it can affect their mental health, being under so much pressure to make themselves look as good as other people…
Nigel: I think the other point of the exhibition was to highlight the fact that we are at a tipping point. It’s obviously become a very important part of our landscape and I think anything that engages people and encourages them to be creative is good. When cameras first came out on smartphones you couldn’t really do anything with them. Now phones like the Huawei P10 have 20-megapixel capacities. That frees you up to take a shot of pretty much anything you like and that’s why we commission the photographers as part of the exhibition to create images that turn the gaze outwards as a contrasting form of self-expression. That’s also why we’re running a new competition, which has had 3000 entries to date. The whole point of this is that it can’t be a selfie, so what we’re doing is turning the camera in the other direction.
Hungry Eye: Lastly, what do you personally think of the P10?
Hungry Eye: I love it, I take so many pictures! I don’t regard myself as a photographer but I’m always documenting things that I see in art exhibitions and so on. For me to have this as a tool and to have such crisp and clear images in environments that aren’t always that great is just wonderful.
Last on the list of this epic day was a discussion on the impact of selfie culture with an expert panel. Here’s the highlights:
Chaired by broadcaster Clemency Burton-Hill and curated by technology company Huawei, the discussion delved into the pros and cons of selfie culture from a multitude of perspectives.
Journalist, broadcaster, stylist and brand consultant Pandora Sykes brought to light the deep, conflicting emotions that can be stirred by the humble selfie, irrespective of whether the producer intended them or not. She commented: “Two words come to mind when describing the concept of the selfie: empowering and exploitative. Whilst Kim Kardashian might be empowered by her own selfies, posting them with the intention they have the same effect for her viewers, there is the risk of the opposite happening and her viewers being and feeling exploited.”
Fresh from writing a book about the modern world’s obsession with selfies, award-winning journalist and novelist Will Storr delved into history, saying “humans have and are always seeking validation. The selfie world dates back 2,500 years. In Ancient Greece you had to be a hustler and an individual to make your mark, with this evolving into the adoration of the self. The selfie is the modern adaptation of this. In this way, Van Gogh and Kim Kardashian aren’t so different.”
Bringing hard-hitting facts and academic rigour to the discussion tonight was Dr. Sarah Diefenbach, professor for market and consumer psychology at the Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich. She put forward the motion of a “selfie paradox,” revealing her own research which says that as much as 90% of people don’t like selfies and yearn for “normal” content – yet almost all of them continue to take them: “There will always be someone better than you on social media, as you don’t get to see the average. But the magic of the selfie is that it is a non-conscious process, it is a playful mode of expression. Sometimes a selfie is exactly what you need – selfies can make you happy.”
Diving into the discussion from the perspective of craft and aesthetics, acclaimed fashion photographer Alex Lambrechts hopes for a future of the selfie that is far different to that we currently know and love: “The selfie bubble in its current state will burst. Helped by the advances in technology, selfies of low quality that don’t represent more than their face value will become a thing of the past. The audience will soon become better educated and better viewers, leading to selfies expressing more than just the person in it. They will have a message and represent something bigger.”
Walter Ji, President of Huawei’s Consumer Business Group for the Western European Region, said: “Thanks to advancements in many areas of technology, the innovation, enthusiasm and quality of selfies has increased exponentially in recent years. Just this year we have seen the significance and importance of this form of art go from strength to strength, meaning now is a good a time as ever to look at the effects of the selfie – on the psyche, on fashion, on technology, on culture as a whole.”
Nigel Hurst, Saatchi Gallery CEO, added: “There is no denying that the selfie has had an impact in many walks of life, the art world included. From the masters of Van Gogh and Rembrandt to the Pope and Obama, everyone has appeared in a self-portrait of some kind. The smartphone has gone on to democratise visual self-expression and, in doing so, evolved the self-portrait form. There is now the discussion of selfies being icons of the digital era, a discussion that we are happy to be facilitating with Huawei.”
We thank you Saatchi and Huawei for coming together and bringing us such awesomeness. We can’t wait for the Self Express Exhibition and your future projects.