Even though a public study in the UK recently revealed that Instagram may be harmful to your health, as of April 29, more than 700 million people are reported to be active users of the photo-based app. Some 68% of users are reported to be female, with 80% living outside the United States. Impressively 32% of all Internet users are on IG, making it one of the most popular social media platforms in existence.
Celebrities—and their handlers—like to fish where waters run deep, so it’s no surprise that one of he keys to their popularity is a thriving IG account. Famous faces maintain their cultural currency by creating countless selfies that their fans consume endlessly. The cycle of consumption is quick and always hungering for more. It is impossible to feed the beast, making the threat of overexposure a thing of the past.
Chris Drange seizes upon the celebrity selfie phenomenon for his new book Relics (Hatje Cantz). The book presents chapters of screenshots from the IG accounts of Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, Ariana Grande, Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner, Kylie Jenner, and Kim Kardashian—the mainstream media’s “It” girls.
Drange pairs each celebrity selfie with an image of the profile photo an IG user and the response they left on the post, creating a dialogue in an essentially one way conversation. The celebrity posts an image to which thousands of people reply. Drange’s choices of responses are particularly poignant or pathetic, depending on your level of empathy. They are almost always from young women and girls giving or seeking validation.
Relics is a study in fandom as it tilts towards fanaticism, towards a lack of self awareness countered by a deep self consciousness on the part of both the celebrities and their admirers. There is a mutuality here that rests in the agreement that exalts the appearance of things. The conventions of beauty are centered around a single archetype that both obsesses and devastates those who exalt it above all.
Drange explains the title “Relics” refers to two phenomena, “On is a new type of worship in which the selfie becomes a digital object of devotion and smart phones become ‘shrine devices.’ The other is the image of women—caught between an antiquated male projection and modern female self-determination.”
In a culture where girls and young women regularly complain about the beauty myth, about feeling compelled to conform and constantly falling short of the narrow confines offered by the mainstream media, there remains a compulsion to consume and identify with those who can afford to pay teams to create contrived appearances. From plastic surgery, hairstylists, and makeup artists to personal shoppers and stylists, each of these celebrities invests a enormous amount of their time and cash flow into the construction of their image—one without which might render them unrecognizable, or worse: unremarkable.
Is it a mark of liberation to self-exploit? Does the reinforcement of beauty standards achieved by artifice make render them questionable? Perhaps, as Leo Tolstoy observed, “It is amazing how complete the delusion that beauty is goodness.”
All photos: © Chris Drange
Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Vogue Online, The Undefeated, Dazed Digital, Aperture Online, and Feature Shoot. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.