In 1927, the first electronic television was invented, and in less than 30 years, half of all American households owned at least one television set. By the late 1990s, nearly every home in America had a TV, and watching it had long become a national pastime. The recent explosion of Internet- and television-based entertainments, including reality shows and YouTube videos, and resources like digital cameras, smart phones, and social media platforms, allow anyone to make and share images with others around the world.

It’s hard to imagine a time when television was largely the domain of politicians, journalists, and actors, and the notion of turning the camera onto oneself was still relatively new. Beginning in the 1960s, artists got hold of early handheld cameras, brought them into their studios or took them out into the world, and started experimenting. While some continued working in film, which required time for development and processing, others began using the recently invented portable video camera, which allowed for the immediate playback of their recordings. Many were looking for ways to disrupt and examine the medium and structure of television, received political and social ideologies, deep-seated racial and gender stereotypes, and the definition of art itself. They did this by performing for the camera—as themselves or in various guises—and presenting their videos and films as art.

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