I wanted to talk to Michael Manning about selfies so I email him. “Do you remember your first selfie?” I ask.
“Not really,” he says. He sends me a picture of himself in a room where the light seeps in through the Venetian blinds on the windows behind him. He’s sitting at a computer and holding his iPhone up to the screen—and seen through the phone’s screen the light is liquid and saturates his own image. His face is neutral and obscured by shadows and pixels. Horizontal lines cut it as light and screen striate each other. “That’s the first webcam I ever posted on dump.fm which is probably close to my first selfie,” he says. “I might have posted selfies on my twitter before that, when I first started taking selfies it was mostly for my outfits, cuz i really like clothes, and i mostly jus twitpic’d em cuz i dont think instagram existed yet lol.”
“When we were at the Microsoft Store at Columbus Circle I noticed you going to dump.fm and posting a selfie,” I say. “And since then when I look at people’s dump posts (I don’t usually go into the live chat myself) I notice lots of webcam pics. Is this a way of logging in? or why do people do it?”
“Definitely,” he says, “usually the first thing i do when i want to make people aware that i have logged onto dump is take a webcam, especially a gross one where im like licking a tub of hummus lol.”
A lot of the time in his selfies Michael sticks his tongue out or flashes the peace sign so I asked him why he does that. “for the good vibes,” he replied. “selfies were a big thing for me on dump, but we didnt call them selfies they were jus cams, and i was a pretty big camboy. i learned really early (like after i posted my second or third cam) that people on dump were going to totally do whatever the fuck they wanted with ur cam pix i.e. overlay a flapping cock on them, make ur head explode, have r.kelly piss on you, whatevz. so cuz of that i basically decided i was going to take the grossest and silliest webcams so it’d be like fun for people to use them for those things, and to also basically jus give up ANY possibility of controlling my personal image, cuz you jus can’t it’s jus not possible. below r some links of good examples of what i mean :))) so like sticking my tongue out was kind of something that developed there out of wanting to jus be silly, and i jus give the peace sign a lot so idk about that lol, now that i realized i do it so much ive kind of turned it into my thing, but ya i also jus like the posi vibes and happy look :)”
He sends me some more images. The first one is dark. His neck is bent back and his eyes are rolled up in his head, his mouth open in an expression of pain or indignation. I wonder if it’s really him taking the photo because his arms seem to be down but I guess his arms are long enough that he could be holding the right one out to hold the phone. In the second image he’s leaning against a cushion on a tiled wall, and I suppose there’s a pool or a hot tub nearby because his face is shiny with water or sweat and he’s not wearing a shirt. He’s visible from the shoulders up, eyes closed, tongue lolling out of his mouth—as if he’s overwhelmed by the heat. In the next one he’s inside, shelves of books and a flat-screen TV on adjacent walls. He’s seated at his computer (which I’m guessing is a desktop), leaning toward the webcam, eyes crossed, tongue out, fingers raised in a peace sign. His hair is mussed and spiky. In the last one he’s back in the tiled room, seated against the blue cushion and holding a laptop. This time he’s using his peace-sign fingers to pull his left eye open, yanking the lids in opposite directions and wrecking the symmetry of his crossed eyes.
“i wonder if these funny faces and gestures are ways to keep it “masc” and make it seem like you don’t care about being sexy or w/e,” I say.
“I guess it depends on how you define ‘masc’ like when i think of ‘masc’ i think of like bros in their tiny bathrooms taking pix with an old nokia phone in the mirror of themselves with their shirt off in basketball shorts and they have the most ridiculous pecs and abs u have ever seen,” he says. “I mean i think it’s pretty obvi in most of selfies that i am trying to look cute, and i do care, but idk i cared a lot less on dump, i guess a lot more cute girls follow me on twitter and insta, so im more inclined to be like ‘yo girl’ whereas dump is mostly like weird dudes and a few cool girls mixed in (not that thats bad i luv dump and my dump frans).”
“When you say ‘cam boy’ what do you mean by that?” I ask. “Is a cam boy any different from a cam girl, besides sex?”
“I don’t think I ever really associated cam girls with sex, aside from things like pay cam girls, which is actually an arena where I think a lot of dudes are present just as much now,” he says. “I mean there are implications of sex and like half of molly sodas selfie gifs are her making a sexy pouty face or lifting up her shirt (on the flipside she posts a lot of great selfies of her being jus gross), but i think girls like that are really more the exception than the rule and most of the sexualization of cam girls has more to do with guys being like ‘damn that girl fine i’d hit it’ than the girl being overtly sexually or flirtatious in her pictures. The majority of cam girls I’ve come across (and this applies to girls who frequently post selfies on insta too) are just posting kind of mundane photos of themselves where they happen to look cute. Whether or not they are trying to feed off, or solicit that male recognition I think is a case by case thing and is diff for every girl.
“I think there’s not really much of a difference between camboys and camgirls except perhaps that camgirls are greeted with more overwhelmingly interested male population of viewers whereas female viewers on the whole don’t really give many fucks about cute boy pics (ann hirsch does tho which is cool js). I think camboys and camgirls like to see themselves, I think there is something more interesting about the process of documenting yourself and posting it than whether or not anyone actually sees it or likes it or favs it. It’s like a self affirming ritual or something, not that getting favs doesnt stroke ur ego a bit :)”
“But don’t you think girls do like boy selfies, they just don’t fav or comment so much because they don’t want to seem thirsty?”
“i think that could be a big possibility,” he says. “it’s funny because i dont really understand why a girl would be afraid to admit she likes how a guy looks for fear of being slutty but would then like post a slutty pic of herself trying to get favs from guys u know?
“also i think lately more girls have been like open (if you calling faving cute selfies open) about it, i’ve jus noticed a lot more girls faving my selfies and like some of them are flirt favs and some are like a group of girls ive always been friends with that like selfies like jnet ALWAYS favs my selfies hahaha”
He pauses for a second, then continues. “another thing is that i don’t necessarily think about selfies or cam girls as a sex related thing because most of the pics i end up being into are really more about the attitude of the girl taking them than like her looking really hot in the photo, the fav definitely still comes attraction but its a little bit diff than jus like ‘oh damn she sooooo hot’. Best examples of this are definitely jesse darling and al bedell, they both post a lot of selfies that really don’t hinge on them looking really hot (not that they arent hot, they def are), and in some of them they look down right haggard but like jesse’s attitude is always really strong, almost as if she has jus finished kicking the shit out of someone lol, which is hot to me, and usually Al’s have this insane tinge of black humor that is just fucking amazing and unparalleled.”
“what’s the best selfie you ever took?” I ask.
He sends me an Instagram of him looking into his iPhone and taking a photo in a mirrored Ellsworth Kelly piece, a round thing with a narrow curve at the center, like a palette. Tom Moody is standing beside him, his hands on his hips as if he’s impatient, his body bisected by the indentation of the work. Michael says: “im really proud of this selfie because its def the only selfie in existence that features tom moody.”
To end, I ask: “how does your social media presence (your selfies) relate to your art? if you can think of a simple way to put it, or just some general thoughts.”
“i don’t want to be taken too seriously,” he says. “i mean i like art right, and its cool but people take it way too fucking seriously and i think my overall brand is very lighthearted and kind of jus like ‘fuck it man, lets chill and goto the beach bro’ and i think both my art and selfies reflect that”