#selfie examines how image sharing and the Internet have changed the role of photography in the digital age. The process of creating and disseminating imagery has fundamentally changed in the new context provided by digital photography, smartphones and more recently the ‘selfie’.
To create this work, Tom Stayte commissioned bespoke computer software, which accesses the publicly available Instagram API and appropriates imagery tagged #selfie immediately after it is published. A custom facial recognition algorithm then scans the downloaded images to identify instances of the now ubiquitous single-person-arms-length portrait. These images are printed using a thermal receipt printer, one every 12 seconds, and allowed to fall to the floor and accumulate during the exhibition.
Through physical transformation and defamiliarization of this seemingly harmless content, “#selfie” highlights our readiness to trust the unknown and reveals its darker side; our unconscious participation in self-surveillance and the notional freedom it brings.
This work now consists of over 150,000 individual images that have been produced since it was first exhibited in 2014. Visitors are encouraged to walk over, pick up, examine and interact with the prints in whatever way they wish. Notable creative uses have included categorising them by type, lying down and making ‘selfie-angels’, throwing prints to make ‘selfie-snow’, visitors burying one another with the prints and playing ‘real life Tinder’.
Visitors can also print their own image using the hashtag ‘#tomstayte’. Images posted in this way jump to the front of the queue and print immediately, further deepening the viewers experience and understanding of the work.