Some time ago, someone left a comment on my review of Hiromix’s Girls Blue: “Have we yet reached peak photography?”
I’m not entirely sure what they meant, but I took it as “have we reached peak photobook?” as a sort of critique of Hiromix’s deadpan, snapshot, diaristic style from the mid 1990s. As a massive Hiromix fan, this made me chuckle a bit and I figured it was finally time to try to say something about Kim Kardashian’s 2015 (too-small-to-be-a-) coffee-table book Selfish.
Now. Of the sea of possible photobooks available on the used market, why did I buy a copy of Selfish? God alone knows, as I’ve honestly forgotten…. If I recall correctly, Alec Soth mentioned owning a copy in one of his excellent lockdown-era YouTube videos and connecting his ownership of it to the (William) Egglestonian idea of democratic photography. That is, appreciation of photographs no matter the source.
As a proudly out-of-the-closet anarcho-syndicalist and grudging socialist, I wonder about the of-the-people nature of a photobook made by one of the earliest and most well-known members of the famous-for-being-famous set. That said, there is but no question that Selfish just is a photobook. Not only that, Kardashian actually sorta sounds like a photographer:
The pictures in this book bring back so many memories.
Spanning almost a decade, they are only a small fraction of the thousands of selfies we considered for publication. From digital cameras, to Polaroids, to Blackberries, and smartphones, these photos document the evolution of my selfies. And as I printed them out and laid them on the floor to make a final edit, I reflected on my very public journey as a daughter, sister, friend, wife and mother. This book is a candid tribute to all of my fans, who were with me the entire time.Kardashian, Kim. Selfish. Rizzoli, New York. 2015. Jacket blurb inside front flap, emphasis mine.
I never much thought of Kardashian at all, let alone as a photographer, but would anyone else print out a bunch of photographs and lay them out on a floor to make a final edit? I sorta consider myself a (hack) photographer and I’ve never laid photographs out on the floor to make an edit, final or otherwise. Now. Doing so is neither necessary nor sufficient for being-a-photographer. And still: this is more or less how Alec Soth makes photobooks, and pretty much how photographers make photobooks, so….
Ok. So Kardashian just is a photographer. She might be famous for other things—mostly, as mentioned, for being famous—and still. There are many, many, many photographers out there, and many of them published photobooks. Few were fortunate enough to see their books printed in such quantities, or in multiple editions, and still…. I have to admit that Kardashian maybe has more to her than what we (or you: I’ve never paid her much attention at all) saw on television and in social media over the last 20 years. And, beyond that, she deserves some respect and consideration simply due to the fact that she’s a fellow human with all the wonder and dismay that entails.
I’m sure I sound like a gatekeeper in the above, and I assure you that I’m fully aware that I’m a nobody and have absolutely no right to confirm or deny anyone entry into anything. But you know who does have gatekeeping rights, if only to the photobook world? Photobook publishers, that’s who. And a photobook publisher published not one, but two versions of this book, in multiple printings. Now comes another question: did Rizzoli publish Selfish on the strength of Kardashian’s photography, or was something else at work?
It’s arguably an open question, even if the answer seems obvious. To my eye, most of the photos in Selfish are bog-standard pretty-rich-girl selfies, made purely to proclaim “Look at me! I’m pretty and rich!” We have billions of these online and given that nobody reads, we probably don’t need many printed copies of the photographs we scroll past endlessly…. That said, a few that have a bit of something to them.
Kardashian made the first photograph in the book when she was a child. According to the note—there are brief notes on some of the images, about which more soon—”My very first selfie was taken in 1984. I put my mom’s clip-on earrings on Khloe and found a disposable camera and took a picture to capture this memory.”* The photo has the color and grain of film, which I love, as well as the soft, too-close focus of plastic-lensed cameras, which I also love. Little Kardashian smiles and has off-kilter diamond highlights in her eyes; her younger sister appears to be screaming. It’s a great sort of vernacular photograph of the type that I’d love to stumble across in my Dad’s or Granddad’s archive, and that I love from, say, Hiromix’s work.
Another memorable photo, for me, isn’t technically a Kim selfie. In the photo, titled “Punta Mita, Mexico Best photo bomb ever!” a young man bites his lower lip and squints against the sun in the right half of the frame, and there, blurred by distance, in the lower center of the frame, Kardashian waves and looks excited as she pops out of a swimming pool just over the man’s shoulder. It looks like fun, and maybe like Polaroid or something: it has that contrast and over saturated color, and the blur is creamy and lush.
Beyond that, what strikes me most is the text, of which some is descriptive, some is quite simply vapid nonsense that no one would actually eve say, would they?, and much is a sort of humble brag that’s just cringe-inducing. For example “Bikini selfies are the best selfies” and
I was getting ready for a Photo shoot wearing my signature Juicy sweat suit! I was Obsessed!!! I now so many people would probably find getting their hair and makeup done so often tedious but I love the entire process so much. It’s therapeutic for me. It relaxes me!Kardashian, Kim. Selfish. Rizzoli, New York. 2015. unpaginated.
And that’s about all I have to say about Selfish. Honestly, I’m shocked I had that much to say about it….
I paid less than $10, shipped, including tax, for this used copy of Selfish, and it was more or less worth it. At time of writing, used copies run $25 or more and inflation is real, my friends. At $10 it was an instabuy just for the video and this blog post. At $25, I’d have to actually be a fan, I think, and, as you might have gathered, I’m not particularly. I doubt I’ll have any reason to revisit Selfish in the future, but it’s going to go on the shelves anyway, somewhere between Kalina and Kawauchi. Selfish just is a photobook, after all.
Edit: I should mention two things, I guess: 1) there are a handful of black pages in the center of Selfish that feature some NSFW photos… I skipped past them in the video and they’re worth skipping past; 2) my copy is a third printing of the 2015 first edition and there exists a 2016 second edition with a different cover and some additional images. Despite my photobook related impulses, I won’t be buying a copy.
*Kardashian, Kim. Selfish. Rizzoli, New York. 2015. unpaginated.