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On Queer Selfies

Patrick Kelly: Director, Producer, Researcher

Affiliation: Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology
Title of Work: On Queer Selfies
Year: 2022

Length: 8 minutes and 25 seconds

RESEARCH STATEMENT

The video essay On Queer Selfies (2022) utilises material from the researcher’s previous smartphone films North (2013), #Selfie #NoFilter (2014), Quo Grab #01 (2017a), Quo Grab #02 (2017b), What’s With Your Nails? (2018), and The Trouble (2021), as well as additional video and photographs from a personal archive of smartphone material. As Jack Halberstam argues, “If we try to think about queerness as an outcome of strange temporalities, imaginative life schedules, and eccentric economic practices, we detach queerness from sexual identity” (Halberstam 2011, 1). This blending of material demonstrates a queer blurring of work and play that contributes to a disruption, not only of traditional screen production methods, but also a contemporary focus on representation within queer media. As part of a broader project examining methods frequently utilised by queer screen creatives in Australia, for this film the researcher is led by the question: “How can the processes and outcomes of my screen production research practice be understood as queer reflexive autoethnography?” In using an autoethnographic framework, the researcher examines how selfie images produced with hyperaccessible smartphone devices can be observed as implementing Baker’s (2011) call for a queering of practice-led research, enacting a “performative bricolage” with a focus on queer screen production that is concerned with more than representation.

 

There exists a great deal of scholarship on the role that selfies play in contemporary digital cultures, with scholars asserting that “the making of the self is an art” (Baker 2011, 44); that selfies, “as a series of sociotechnical practices, are more complex than what can be inferred from the images” (Gómez Cruz 2017, 305); and that, by embracing the communicative function of selfies and extending the notion that “one can live with distorted truth” (Baudrillard 1994, 5), “the selfie unsettlingly undermines the concept of the real by removing its discursive partner, representation” (Goldberg 2017, 9). 

 

On Queer Selfies edits its materials together in a supercut of sorts; in what Halberstam (2011) might describe as “frivolous, promiscuous, and irrelevant” (6). Clips from the researcher’s previous films sit alongside those shot on the fly during day-to-day life, at home, on vacation, at parties and karaoke, human rights rallies, and even outtakes from video work made during COVID-19 lockdown in Melbourne. The clips selected were shot over a period of several years.


Berry (2018) notes how selfies offer “a way to distance oneself from a situation through self-reflexivity” (60), at the same time that queer theory helps artists appropriate selfies “to provide mirrors through which artists and art institutions can see themselves” (61). Tan points to the “aesthetics of queer becoming” observed in films such as Comrade Yue (2012), signified by the use of digital technologies to present oneself via video in “a never-ending project of undoing heteronormativity and negotiating with homonormativity” (Tan 2016, 50). Ultimately, an embrace of the queer selfie equates to one of subjectivity through a personal and reflective approach, and smartphone filmmaking can produce queer screen work that can highlight more than representation; something not usually seen in mainstream media.

 

PEER REVIEW 1

This video essay is a fusion of the author’s previous, completed, projects and the author’s own personal footage from everyday life. The majority is in the form of a “selfie,” often shot at a lower angle in a vertical format, synonymous with contemporary smartphone production for social media and personal documentation. While much of the footage feels immediate and “off the cuff,” there is also a highly performative effect to the interaction with the camera, the author knows and understands the personal relationship they wish to portray with the audience, and this does feel built for an audience other than the creator. Was this part of a journal? It’s interesting to think about this as a series of deliberately produced videos. The film is entertaining to watch, the author shares excerpts from their exciting and varied life of travel, parties, and karaoke. The character of the author becomes readily apparent, as they share both moments of joy, frustration, introspection and perhaps despair. The 8 minutes and 25 seconds length flies by. 

 

Interspersed with the selfie footage are selected quotes, white text on black background, creating a journey for the audience to stop and consider the work as they are experiencing it. It is here that the central arguments of the essay are deployed.

Part of a broader project, this film is led by the question “How can the processes and outcomes of my screen production research practice be understood as queer reflexive autoethnography.” The result is certainly a “performative bricolage” as alluded to in the author’s statement. The film could sit with most projects that are self-produced for platforms such as Instagram or TikTok, so the sense of this as a piece of research is supported in the use of the quotes. The film contains numerous moments that confirm the queer context, iconography, music, and locations synonymous with more whimsical and irreverent contexts often attributed to queer culture. The film is clearly autobiographical and draws on the lived experience of the author, providing insights to the self-identity of the author through an examination of the cultural experiences they encounter. Clearly the film succeeds in demonstrating the premise. The ‘How’ can be found in the postproduction treatment.

The ‘frivolous’ and playful nature of the editing and musical choices. The framing, often from below the eyeline, depicts the author in a position of power and dominance. The “irrelevant” context of much of the footage, evidences a filmmaker bringing their lived experience together with the skill of a storyteller to create the commentary they were attempting. While seemingly a “whimsical” experience, upon reflection the film sits as a piece of work that commands a place in the canon of queer screen work as an example of a practitioner using their own experiences and skill to create a larger story.

PEER REVIEW 2

The author poses the question: “How can the processes and outcomes of my screen production research practice be understood as queer reflexive autoethnography?” The film itself (as an output) could be seen as an outcome of queer reflexive practice and the project is strongest in its exploration of methodologies, notably “performative bricolage” (Baker 2011) and autoethnography. By drawing on the affordances of smartphone filmmaking, the film creatively explores negotiations with heteronormative performative, identity-expression practices. The film explores self-reflexivity through its selfie-style content, but also the editing choices. The thematic linking of critical ideas and questions build towards a final series of shots that thoughtfully and beautifully answers the research question. Queer reflexive autoethnography is evident through the complexity and richness of queer identity being explored through the series of selfies. It is an effectual process to interrogate queer subjectivities and create media content that contributes to an expanding media and cultural landscape.

The project lives up to its potential and offers an important addition to scholarly discussions of contemporary Australian documentary practice. The author has articulated the research question and methodology well. The only suggestion I could make is about the inclusion of the editing process as it relates to “performative bricolage” (Baker 2011). If the author could further describe the editing choices made, and connect this important process of documentary making, it may provide additional insight into the “reflexive” approach taken in the project.


There is evidence of the research question articulated in the film itself, along with many academic examples that aim to answer that question. The integration of these quotes throughout the documentary frame it as a research output from the beginning, and yet does not deter from the personal story being told. While the film itself is not necessarily innovative in its form, the content, if viewed through the reflexive ethnographic lens, is quite innovative. While there are many selfie films produced inside and outside of the academy, however this “performative bricolage” approach to creating the film, provides a useful methodology for other filmmakers to think about selfie filmmaking. As Baker notes, self-bricolage is a process that can reveal, produce, test, challenge and circulate subjectivities (2011, 35). As a practice-led research methodology, “performative bricolage” can produce interdisciplinary artefacts (such as Queer Selfies), which is both a creative and critical piece of research that produces knowledge on the performative nature of gender and sexual identities and the process of identity-construction (Baker 2011, 40). Queer Selfies is an exploration of this methodology as well as an output itself. It provides an important contribution to knowledge in how practice as research can reveal new insights into the research process as well as the content being explored. It will be a valuable addition to the scholarly field and will undoubtedly assist both academics and creative practitioners in understanding new approaches to autoethnographic filmmaking.

RESEARCHER RESPONSE

A huge thank you to both peer reviewers for taking the time to consider my work and for their thoughtful comments. I am delighted by their responses.


Reviewer 2 requested that I “further describe the editing choices made and connect this important process of documentary filmmaking…” The post-production process for this creative work was fun, challenging, and complex. It involved multiple, closely related, iterative stages typical of post-production for video. Perhaps the more significant steps involved the selection of material “pieces” for inclusion and the fostering of different interactions between the various pieces on the timeline. In considering the complexities of how the process was undertaken and given the nature of the material (ie. my own selfies), I am reminded of Robards and Lincoln’s (2017) social media “scrollback” method. This method forms part of an interview approach that sees participants engaging with their own social media timelines to prompt new thoughts about media content and memory. This approach enables “comprehensive life narratives [to be] revealed, not just to the researcher, but to the participant who may not have previously considered the length and depth of their digital traces’ (Robards and Lincoln 2017, 727). I have written elsewhere (Kelly 2018b) about how I often explore such a process through my own filmmaking practice, and I intend to develop these ideas further (perhaps in a separate publication) in the future.

REFERENCES

Baker, Dallas J. 2011. “Queering Practice-Led Research: Subjectivity, performative research and the creative arts.” Creative Industries Journal 4 (1): 33-51. Doi: 10.1386/cij.4.1.33_1.


Baudrillard, Jean. 1994. Simulacra and simulation. Translated by S.F. Glaser. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Berry, Marsha. 2017. Creating with Mobile Media. Cham, Switzerland: Springer.


Goldberg, Greg. 2017. “Through the Looking Glass: The Queer Narcissism of Selfies.” Social Media and Society 3 (1). http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2056305117698494.


Gómez Cruz, Edgar. 2017. "The (Be)coming of Selfies. Revisiting an Online Ethnography on Digital Photography Practices." In The Routledge Companion to Digital Ethnography, edited by Heather Horst, Larissa Hjorth, Genevieve Bell, & Anne Galloway. London: Routledge.


Halberstam, Jack. 2011. The Queer Art of Failure. Durham: Duke University Press.


Jianbo, Yue, dir. 2012. Comrade Yue. Queer University, 2012. 30:00. https://www.queercomrades.com/videos/%e5%90%8c%e5%bf%97/.


Kelly, Patrick, dir. 2013. North. Patrick Kelly, 3:00. https://vimeo.com/pmk1986.


Kelly, Patrick, dir. 2014. #Selfie #NoFilter. Patrick Kelly, 2:17. https://vimeo.com/pmk1986.


Kelly, Patrick, dir. 2017a. Quo Grab #01. Patrick Kelly.


Kelly, Patrick, dir. 2017b. Quo Grab #02. Patrick Kelly, 4:58. https://vimeo.com/pmk1986.


Kelly, Patrick, dir. 2018. What’s With Your Nails? Patrick Kelly, 6:25. https://vimeo.com/pmk1986.


Kelly, Patrick, dir. 2021. The Trouble. Patrick Kelly, 8:15. https://vimeo.com/pmk1986.

Tan, Jia. 2016. “Aesthetics of queer becoming: Comrade Yue and Chinese community-based documentaries online.” Critical Studies in Media Communication, 33 (1): 38-52. Doi: 10.1080/15295036.2015.1129064.


Weir, Peter, dir. 1998. The Truman Show. Paramount Pictures, 1:43:00. https://www.netflix.com/watch/11819086.

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