The Art of the Selfie (Hong Kong Style), 2014–2015

Having lived in Hong Kong for the past five years, I witnessed a rapidly increasing number of tourists from mainland China coming here for shopping and sightseeing and, perhaps even more important, taking selfies. I mean: lots of selfies. One of their favorite spots is Golden Bauhinia Square in Wan Chai, a political landmark named after a gilded statue that was inaugurated in 1997 by China’s Central Government to celebrate Hong Kong’s return to China. Hundreds of buses arrive here every day and spill out thousands of visitors – not only from China, but also from Thailand, Korea and the Philippines – who use their short stopover to walk around and view the nearby waterfront.

Not many of them take notice of the Golden Bauhinia, but all of them take selfies. When I started my project The Art of the Selfie [Hong Kong Style] in September 2014, I became fascinated by this strange, curious photographic activity that manifests itself in so many variations. I decided to eliminate the background and separate the figures in order to emphasize their gestures. The background scenery was not important to them anyway, as the selfie-taker is typically more busy putting his or her hairstyle, make-up and smile in perfect shape.

I see this project as a mix of street and theater photog­raphy, focused on a universal phenomenon that reveals as much about our contemporary condition as it does about the medium of photography today. The photography that I see around me appears to be divided into two worlds – a small one by politically, socially or aesthetically engaged photographers (the artists), and a much larger one by the rest (the selfiests). Or, to interpret John Szarkowski’s distinction from the late 1970s, a tiny world of windows surrounded by a huge world of mirrors.

Jhoane Baterna-Pateña