Photographer’s inspiring selfies project

No one can deny the popularity of a selfie. We’ve seen it trending everywhere: at the Oscars, between world leaders, among celebrities — you name it! But long before it became a phenomenon, Elaine Adolfo was taking them for nearly a decade, showcasing her photos in a Flickr series called The 10 Year Project.

“Most people take photos of themselves on trips or some place special,” Elaine tells The Weekly Flickr in the accompanying video. “But I felt that it was important to photograph myself in front of things that I’m doing every day. I wanted to document those simple moments because that’s what makes up your life.”

Elaine joined Flickr when it first launched in 2004. At the time, she was drawn to the site because she says there’s was nothing quite like it.

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“Back in 2004, sharing your photos was not an easy process,” Elaine remembers. “You would email huge files to people, and there was no organization about it. There were sites that you could upload your photos, buy mugs with your photos on them… but it was not focused on sharing with your friends and Flickr offered that.”

Elaine’s selfie project came about in 2006 after a trip to the eyeglass store. She was trying on new glasses and took a picture of herself with a new pair. The next day she took a picture in her regular glasses to compare looks. Over the next few days Elaine took several pictures of herself and unconsciously began taking more.

“Finally, the 30th day comes, I’m taking more pictures of myself and said, ‘Oh, this is interesting! I’ve pretty much documented my life for a month. Let me just put them all in a folder and see what happens.’ I was thinking maybe I’d call it a 30-day project but then I thought, no let’s do a 10-year project. And that’s how my personal selfie project started. I just picked a random number and said, ‘Let’s see how far this goes.’”

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In the beginning, it was a bit uncomfortable for Elaine as the concept of a selfie was unheard of.

“It wasn’t normal,” Elaine says. “You wouldn’t see people taking photos of themselves.”

Back in 2006, Elaine didn’t have a smartphone with a camera. Instead, she took photos of herself with a regular camera, which resulted in a lot of strange looks from people passing by.

“I’d be in front of a frozen yogurt place, and people behind the counter would say, ‘Seriously? You find this fascinating?’ and I would say, ‘Yeah, thank you!’” Elaine says laughing.

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“When I started the project there wasn’t really a grand plan,” Elaine explains. “It was just to see what I looked like every day. But as it progressed, I started noticing different changes going on in my face. You know, you’d get a little fat here, get a little sad here, some days you’re really happy… but I realized I’m actually documenting my aging. It’s subtle but really powerful because all those changes — the lines on your face, etc. It speaks to a story of what happened to your life at that moment… and that’s something I find really precious.”

As the years went by, Flickr evolved into a community of photographers, and Elaine began to receive many positive comments about her project. Most people found her work to be fascinating and very introspective. Every once in awhile, however, Elaine would receive negative feedback; accusations that the series made her seem “too vain.”

“I’ll admit, it hurt,” Elaine says. “At the same time I was like, ‘I can show you 300 photos where I’m not looking beautiful at all!’ But I think it’s important that you love the days when you’re not looking so great, because those are the moments something amazing is happening.”

“On those ugly, dark days, that’s when you’re the strongest and you need to cherish those moments,” Elaine says. “So when I take a picture of myself and it’s not looking particularly great… that’s a wonderful experience to go through and I’m glad that I have a photo to remember that really challenging day.”

To date, Elaine is 8 years into her project with nearly 3,000 selfies. She describes her series as a “weird journal” of her life — documenting the highs and lows throughout the years.

“I think when I’m 75 [years old] looking back on these photos, I think I’m going to be really, really joyful,” Elaine says. “It’s just going to make me so happy to look through all the images and remember that time I had that great meal with my friends, [or] that time I was exhausted after 10 hours of dance. I’m just going to have a rush of memories that’s going to give me so much happiness, and I look forward to that day.”

Yountville + Berkeley Awesomeness

Visit Elaine’s photostream to see more of her photography.

Previous episode: ‘Big Me, Little Me': Hilarious Self-Portraits

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