December 3, 2015 / 5:19 PM / in 2 years

Selfies under scrutiny at London show

LONDON (Reuters) - People in London smile the least in their selfies while Moscow’s selfie takers are predominantly women dressed to the nines, says a researcher involved in setting up a London show about selfies.

Military cadets take pictures of themselves during a ceremony celebrating the birthday of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej outside the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand in this December 5, 2014 file photo. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj/Files

For its new exhibition “Big Bang Data”, Somerset House has commissioned “Selfiecity London,” a spotlight on 640 selfies selected out of a total of 152,462 public Instagram images taken in a single week in September in a 5-sq-km (2-sq-mile) radius around the museum. The show opens to the public on Thursday.

The Selfiecity project is led globally by Lev Manovich, a professor of computer science at City University of New York’s Graduate Center. Selfiecity’s eight-person lab compiles and analyses selfies from around the world, the five other cities so far being Bangkok, Berlin, Moscow, New York and Sao Paulo.

Manovich said the project was designed “to see if we can learn new things about cultural differences and cultural behavior” from selfies, and to make such analysis more democratic for people who lack deep knowledge of computing.

In that respect, he said the most important part of the “Selfiecity London” display was its interactivity function. On a touch screen, visitors can introduce filters and criteria -- ‘people from London over 35,’ or ‘very small children’ -- and observe patterns and trends within that chosen subgroup.

Globally, the findings showed that “every city is unique” in its own peculiar way, Manovich said.

People taking selfies in London smiled the least and closed their eyes the most, he said. By contrast, the highest percentages of “strong smiles” were to be found in Bangkok and Sao Paulo, whereas the ratios in Moscow and New York were “significantly” lower.

London selfie takers included more older men than elsewhere: the average male was 28 years old, versus 26.3 for other cities. The youngest selfie takers of all were to be found in Bangkok, where the average age for females was 20.3 and males 22.7.

Moscow had by far the highest proportion of female selfie takers -- 82 percent of them were women -- and they treated selfies “like a fashion magazine: they’re always totally made up, and looking straight at the camera”, Manovich said.

The CUNY academic said his team had wanted to include Japan in the study, but couldn’t because “when people pose for selfies, they’re more elusive: they often don’t show their full face, so the software couldn’t deal with it”.

Editing by Michael Roddy/Mark Heinrich

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