L.A. has become a hotbed for interactive "museum" installations — that is, places designed to take selfies along with the art. Places like Museum of Ice Cream, 29 Rooms, Happy Place.
And now there's another one jumping into the mix.
The Museum of Selfies is opening its doors this weekend in Glendale. The mission: to "explore the history and cultural phenomenon of the selfie."
Before you roll your eyes, give it a chance. One of the people behind the museum used to feel pretty negatively about selfies himself.
"I saw them as empty and shallow," said Tommy Honton, the museum's co-creator, "and sort of tied together with screen culture and the addiction that comes with living life through a screen."
Honton would have been the last person expected to take on this kind of project. He describes himself as a writer, game designer and narrative experience creator. He doesn't even have a social media presence. But in the Museum of Selfies, he saw a new kind of challenge.
I had a preconception and I wanted to try to change that. Is there something deeper here? Is there something playful and interesting and can we find this sort of deeper connection to humans and teach people in a fun and playful way.
The challenge was on and the stage was set. Honton embarked on his journey to change the way the public feels about selfies.
One of the first rooms you come across at the Museum of Selfies features a giant timeline along the wall that denotes important historical points in the selfie's history. It's an effort to put things into context. The room also features a life-size re-creation of Van Gogh's "Bedroom in Arles" painting.
The point is to show the visitor that beautiful art is part of the selfie's history and DNA.
When you look at art, that's where it evolved from to be able to capture painted images and when you look at the Renaissance, painted images were pretty accurate. So, I think it's fair to begin with the beginning of art.
Next to Van Gogh's room is the black and white room.
The monochromatic room commemorates black and white photography, an era that saw the first known selfie photo. The room is meant to reflect how photography really evolved and how it lead to the creation of the selfie.
Going deeper into the museum brings your closer to the present day selfie as we know it. There's a whole section that commemorates food and the large role food has played in selfie culture.
The room dedicated to the bathroom selfie really threw A Martinez for a loop. And it is a bit jarring. You walk in expecting to see yourself in what you think is a giant mirror. But you've been duped.
There is no mirror. The point of eliminating the mirror is to get people to reflect.
You need a reflection to take a selfie and we wanted people to have that moment...because mirrors are meant to be reflective. Obviously bathrooms selfies, the classic image you see of people going 'Hey you up? I'm gonna send you a pic,' that doesn't work here.
Next door to the optical illusion bathroom is a makeshift gym, designed to celebrate the ever-so-popular gym selfie. But this gym is unlike others. It has funhouse mirrors that warp reflections -- so what appear to be giant weights are, in actuality, very light.
The concept of the gym room began with a question: Why are gyms a place where people take a lot of selfies?
There are some things in the room that may not be as accurate as people believe. We want people to have fun and play around with the idea that gyms are a place where people go for showing off what they are...but is seeing believing?
This room was probably A Martinez's favorite, as he himself is probably guilty of the occasional gym selfie.
It's all a part of the human experience
While curating the museum, Honton felt his perception of selfies slowly changing, and it's a journey he hopes visitors will take as well.
"I used to lump everyone who took selfies into the category of...Blech. But now, I only vomit a little bit," Honton joked.
You can capture a moment, for example, a marathon. Crossing that finish line. It's a very powerful moment. And you can actually capture that yourself. So as long as you're not living life purely through a screen, then it's an exciting thing. I have a begrudging respect for them.
As Honton and A Martinez complete their selfie journey and come to one of the last interactive exhibits the museum has to offer, the question about changing people's minds crops up again.
"It's been around since humans have dawned, the understanding that you are the person staring back at the mirror. We want people to acknowledge that it's just a part of what humans are."
And with that, the two of them commemorate the moment with a selfie on the selfie stick throne.