The Selfie Harm photo series shocked the world. But what happens after the regramming stops?

Rankin's Selfie Harm series was a warning to us all about how photo-editing apps affect our self-image, but what have we learned? Grazia investigates...
The Selfie Harm photo series shocked the world. But what happens after the regramming stops?

Rankin is not a fan of selfie culture. This made him the perfect choice to lens an astonishing series of images entitled Selfie Harm for which he photographed 15 teenagers then asked them to filter the images until were social-media ready, and placed them side by side.

The British photographer who’s created the world’s most iconic images of everyone from Kate Moss and Jerry Hall to Tinie Tempah and Dua Lipa explains, “The selfie has become a way of faking your life, looks, and distorting reality by putting a rose-tinted lens over everything. One of the scariest things I’ve heard is that people are going to plastic surgeons and asking to look like their altered selfies. These transformative tools are easy to use and available to everyone, no matter how young. Mix this readily available technology with the celebrities and influencers flaunting impossible shapes with impossible faces,” he adds, “and we’ve got a recipe for disaster.”

All the teenagers who took part in the Selfie Harm series preferred their unaltered photos, but others may not emerge as unscathed. Rankin continues, “Imagery, like anything else, can be healthy or harmful, addictive or nutritious. And now, more so than ever, this has become a massive issue with the huge cultural impact of socialmedia. Every platform is full of hyper-retouched and highly addictive imagery, and it’s messing people up. As a photographer, I feel like my medium has been hijacked by people that are misusing and abusing its power.”

Rankin’s Selfie Harm series is part of an initiative called Visual Diet led by Mimi Gray, Head of Visual Content at M&C Saatchi and Marine Tanguy of MTArt Agency, that represents the world’s most exciting emerging visual artists. Mimi observes, “We live in a time of overwhelming visual stimulation and it is impossible to have control over all the imagery we are exposed to – from advertising and editorial to images on the news, even on our friend’s social-media pages. We are all content creators now, and we all share the responsibility. We need to take back control over our visual diets by challenging the way we currently consume imagery and interact with social media.”

Visual Diet is lead by Mimi Gray, Head of Visual Content at M&C Saatchi 

Marine agrees, “We all have a responsibility in choosing the most inspiring and nourishing visuals. A young girl on average spends over five hours on social media a day, spliced in with adverts she sees on the street and the TV she’s watching. We need to make these environments a lot more inspiring visually and less harmful for her mental health.” So far, so inspiring. But after the regramming stops, what’s next for this campaign? Grazia meets M&C Saatchi CMO Kate Bosomworth to find out…

M&C Saatchi and Rankin are two behemoths responsible for the most iconic imagery in popular culture. Has this project altered your approach to the images you’re putting out into the world?

Our Chief Creative Office Justin Tindall has always believed that we carry a huge responsibility – we should think about everything we put out into the world. We have to ask ourselves, “Does it make the world better or not?” Nothing we put out in the world is neutral: it either enriches or pollutes. None of us wants to be in the work of pollution. So the project hasn’t altered our approach, rather that it has allowed us to articulate this responsibility within the industry and more broadly. Our ambition is for everyone – not just brands, the media, and advertisers – to think about this. The relationship between our mental health and a healthy visual diet is becoming more widely discussed, and our aim is to accelerate this conversation into action.

The effects on mental health and body image raised by Selfie Harm aren’t exclusive social media and selfie culture. Are you planning to widen the scope of this project?

Yes absolutely. This is just where we’ve started as it’s universally relevant and very newsworthy at this point in time. It’s not surprising that this aspect of the project has been the focus of media’s interest in Visual Diet, but we have always wanted Visual Diet to be about all the imagery we consume, not just on social media. This project seeks to incorporate everything from public art in public spaces, what we see in all forms of media and in the everyday around us… We don’t seek to focus on just where harm is being done but improve people’s understanding of the positive impact a more healthy and nourishing visual diet can have.

Who needs to take more responsibility for the images we’re exposed to? Should there be more regulation in place?

We all need to take responsibility, from you and I as individuals through to global brands and powerful media owners alike.Beyond truly harmful content, which is already regulated, we don’t seek at this stage to drive more regulation into the advertising industry for example. But as the broader evidence becomes clear, we envisage that brands and advertisers will see this as a natural step, as the only way to go and adopt the principles of a positive and nourishing visual diet. In a similar way, brands who now understand the power of having an authentic and socially driven purpose will want to take full responsibility for the images they create and put out into the world. Consumers will demand it.

What’s next for Visual Diet?

Visual Diet is a long-term initiative that we are fully committed to as an agency. We hope to see the project grow in scope in 2019 and beyond. It will definitely grow beyond the discussion of social media and selfies, but if the first six weeks is anything to go by, we are confident of attracting significant support from within the advertising industry and beyond. We have 28 offices and so part of the next stage will be to establish a global conversation around Visual Diet.

Photos: Rankin, supplied and Instagram