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Selfish To Selfie

pamela singh selfie


Selfish To Selfie

Selfish little histories that made the first frames

Although in reality every day these days is a Selfie Day, fellow humans in the US have dedicated June 21 exclusively to this vainest of pursuits.

We can’t get enough of it. Like everyone else, I begin each new year with the widest of grins in a selfie, which gradually dwindles down to a smile and eventually a bored pout, only to be restored to its original stature during random holidays. (Someone please start a startup with an annual selfie metre to record these fluctuations.)

We love it, even if we don’t look like Kim Kardashian. Speaking of whom, she recently came out with a whole book of her selfies, aptly titled Selfish. Closer home, this photographic phenomenon is being used in pretty creative ways. I realised this while interviewing Kashmir’s ‘Selfie King’ Javid Parsa last year. He turned these instant memories into a most successful marketing tool which totally hit off with Srinagar’s millennials.

The first front-facing camera in a smartphone was released in 2003, so it is only natural for us to assume that our generation deserves full credit for inventing the concept. But we’re forgetting that what happened with phones is only a technological upgrade; the real awesomeness had already taken place years ago (here’s one of the earliest selfies taken by a teenager!). They called it ‘photographic self-portrait’, and they did some pretty funky things with it.

In the history of Indian Selfie, the single most interesting figure has to be Pamela Singh, or Pamella Bordes as she came to be known in the years she was married to a Frenchman. Before getting to selfies, she had a colourful life which included winning the Miss India pageant in 1982, ‘escorting’ high-profile clients in the UK (it was a major scandal that, in her own words “if told, could’ve brought down the government of the day”!), and also being married to an arms dealer.

This sassy, stylish diva, after she had made the British government blush, turned away from it all and into photography in the ’90s. Except that, being herself, she still enjoyed being in front of the camera as much as she was behind it. So she attached a rear view mirror to it and went about shooting daily scenes around the world, with herself (or some element of her) within the frame. In 2015 she hand-painted this years-long collection and exhibited it as The Treasure Maps of Pamela Singh to a great response. Seeing this self-assured lady sprawled on a cot amongst truck drivers, one is struck by the mystery that she remains even today in her low-profile days.

Of course, all this happened before the word ‘selfie’ came about. The word, by the way, is Aussie in origin, accidentally coined by a drunk Australian in the wee hours back in 2002. It is a word that will stay with us for a long time despite changing technologies. The world’s collective collection of selfies will reveal new meanings. Check out Selfiecity where people are already analysing thousands of images to map cities. Another odd project to ponder over is by Italian Alberto Frigo, known for ‘lifelogging’ or selfie-ing everything he has ever held in his right hand.

What Pamela Singh was doing might have been borderline narcissistic (and this is a word hinged more on her history than present), but it was still in the realm of Art. Today, a total reverse of that idea, the closest we have is Norwegian photographer Kristoffer Eliassen beautiful photo essay called Selfphone, where the true extent of our obsession shines through.

Photo Credit:, Pamela Singh




Mineli Goswami is a 24-year-old Assamese-East Indian, which usually translates into pretty good weekend feasts. When she’s not at her desk struggling with poetry – more often than she’d like – she’s seen wasting time on an assortment of things such as lugging an antique SLR, breaking nails climbing boulders, and chasing turtles. She’s graduated in history and has an unofficial PhD in Bandra-style jiving.

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