The anti-thesis of the selfie

The essay is more about the ‘axonometric’ than the selfie. But it sounded tempting to start from the notion of a ‘selfie’, as now it is a very important social phenomenon. Even to remain aloof about it, is translated being a misfit.  Sontag says “To photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed. It means putting oneself into a certain relation to the world that feels like knowledge – and therefore like power”. In the light of these words written much earlier before the selfie-era, the selfie keeps re‘appropriating’ the self.

To probe further, lets look at the traditional projection methods of  drawing in architecture – Orthographic, Perspective and Axonometric. Weston beautifully talks about how these three ideas in book 100 Ideas that changed architecture .Simply put the orthographic drawings relays a three dimensional object into a set of two dimensional drawings. A perspective drawing  “invented as a technique to represent the world as we supposedly  perceive it, perspective projection became both a means of design and the catalyst for far reaching doubts that questioned the foundations of classical architecture”. Whereas the axonometric drawings  “one of several means of representing a three-dimensional object on a two- dimensional surface; unlike the more familiar technique of perspective projection it does not suggest how the object might appear to the eye. Lines do not converge to one or more vanishing points but remain parallel, enabling all dimensions to be preserved true to the chosen scale ”

Theo Van Doesberg, Counter-Construction, Private House, 1923.


Only the orthographic and the axonometric are scaled formats. Even the simple ritual of ‘scaled’ set of drawings is as recent as Renaissance. An outcome  of the print technology and artist-builder divide pushed the necessity of scaled drawings.   Post Renaissance the impulse of the scaled ‘orthographic’ drawings (plan,section and elevation) gained importance. “ was only in the Renaissance that scale drawings came into widespread use. The use of scale promoted an intellectual separation between the drawing and the building, and with it the emergence of the separate roles of the architect and the craftsman”. Weston also remarks “Axonometric projections found favor among early Modernists for two contrasting reasons. To those committed to shaping an architecture for the Machine Age, they evoked the objectivity of science and technology, while to others of a more metaphysical inclination such as Theo van Doesburg, leader of the Dutch De Stijl movement, the rather different “objectivity” of gravity-deffing colored planes floating in an inflnite spatial field was effectively evoked without implying the presence of an observer ”

The variables of three modes of representation being  the thing observed, point of observation and vehicle of observation. But what happens in the viewing the orthographic drawing is the the ‘point of observation’ could be any where in the plane parallel to the cutting plane. It could be any point in that parallel plane, thus a possible objectivity to the drawing (and thus may be in intent too).In the perspective drawing, the point of observation is a definite point in space, thus a very subjective matter of looking at things.Axonometric, an high capacity tool for of several architects, arises and  builds it reputation from its basis of objective methodology.  This absence of the observer  is what intrigues me. And this presence/ absence scenario of the observer, makes both the axonometric and selfie, interesting and opposing phenomenons.

But in the spectrum of a selfie, all the three variables the thing observed-point of observation-vehicle of observation  all collapses into the ‘self’. It collides all boundaries of the traditional projection systems. It creates a very interesting vortex of collapsed social constructions. ‘Appropriating’ the world through ‘the self’. Its so narcotic.

Bibliography : “On Photography” by Susan Sontag and “100 Ideas that changed Architecture” by Richard Weston