Although it may seem like a recent phenomenon, the photographic self-portrait has been with us since the dawn of photography. Perhaps the earliest known “selfie” was taken by Hippolyte Bayard (Portrait of a Drowned Man), a Frenchman who claimed to have invented a photographic process prior to the Daguerrotype. The same can be said of William Henry Fox-Talbot (The Reading Establishment).
In recent years, the photographic self-portrait has exploded in popularity into a global phenomenon, fueled by social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and others. It is estimated that over one million “selfies” are taken every day. A recent search of Instagram returned over 211 million photos with the hashtag “#selfie”. The term “selfie” is believed to have originated in Australia and has been elevated from internet slang to our common vernacular and even inclusion in several formal English dictionaries. In fact, selfie was Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year for 2013!
Everybody seems to be getting into the act including celebrities, politicians and even the Pope! Selfies are even popular in space. Astronauts have shared several spacewalk selfies online, and last year, NASA promoted a global selfie project to celebrate Earth Day. They solicited over 36,000 selfies from around the world and created an interactive composite image that can be viewed on their website.
The selfie is so ubiquitous in today’s pop culture that cell phones and digital cameras often include built-in selfie-friendly apps and features such as extra wide angle lenses, articulating screens or front facing screens that facilitate the selfie pose. You can also purchase selfie sticks to extend the camera to a better vantage point. These popular items go well beyond the simple self-timer found on many cameras of yesteryear. Selfies are often purposely self-deprecating, campy, cheesy, or irreverent. They are meant to be spontaneous and fun and are not usually taken very seriously. The selfie craze has even spawned the infamous “duck face” pose.
Despite the fun and seemingly harmless spirit behind them, there is a belief that taking selfies can be a sign of narcissism rather than simple self-expression. There is also some concern it can be addicting and unhealthy. But there is a growing trend in telemedicine where patients can take and forward selfies to their doctors to help diagnose or triage the urgency of their condition. So maybe there are some legitimate uses for selfies.
As a life-long photographer, I’ve taken my share of selfies over the years. I’ve even attempted a few with the equipment I use for diagnostic ophthalmic photography. Some are goofy, and in the spirit of social media selfies. Some are more practical.
Most ophthalmic imaging devices are not what you’d normally consider selfie friendly, at least not in terms of taking a photo of one’s own eyes. Because the optics of these devices are designed for photographing curved surfaces found in the interior of the eye, they usually create distortion when backed up an appropriate distance to take a facial portrait. The effect of this distortion eliminates the need for a goofy facial expression if your goal is just to post a unique selfie on the internet!
But what about useful diagnostic or artistic photos of your own eyes, photos that go beyond distorted face selfies? It’s not only possible, but surprisingly good images can be obtained with some devices. Non-mydriatic instruments with a monitor that can be pivoted toward the patient/photographer lend themselves to self-imaging, while those with an optical viewfinder (fundus camera) or fixed monitor position (Cirrus) do not. I’ve been able to obtain eye selfies with the Zeiss Stratus, Heidelberg HRT, Heidelberg HRA/OCT, Clarity RetCam, Tomey specular microscope and various handheld external cameras. But, you might ask, “So what?” or “Why?”
Well, there have been times when I needed to check a device during maintenance or a software upgrade and it was convenient to use myself as the patient. Sometimes while training staff to use a device, I’ll demonstrate the procedure on myself. Other times, I’ve needed a quick example of a “normal” eye for a lecture like those above.
I took this OCT selfie when we had a visiting scientist from NASA exploring the possibility of putting an OCT on the International Space Station. She wanted to see the Heidelberg Spectralis in clinical use. After demonstrating on several patients, the scientist asked me if I thought it were possible for someone to take an OCT image of themselves. I pivoted the monitor, control panel, and footswitch around and took this selfie of my own retina. I was showing off a little and smugly cautioned the NASA doctor that this was a difficult feat that only an experienced ophthalmic imager could perform. She paused for a moment and then said, “With all due respect, astronauts are some of the smartest and talented people on earth. They shouldn’t have any difficulty doing performing OCTs on themselves after a couple of days training.” Suddenly I didn’t feel so smug. A year or so later, the Spectralis arrived at the International Space Station and it looks like she was right!
Have you ever taken an eye selfie - silly, serious, or otherwise? If so, please share them with your colleagues. You can submit your photos to the OPS Facebook challenge: firstname.lastname@example.org