Up until recently, I didn’t even know what a selfie was. It isn’t a stroke of genius in its explanation: a self-portrait photograph, usually taken on a smart phone or small digital camera. Even the word ‘selfie’ makes my skin crawl, almost as badly as the abbreviation of laptop, which is commonly known in Bristol as a lappy. I want to express today how selfies have made me feel over these last few months, travelling around the Americas.
I shall start with my first trip to Lençóis Maranhenses National Park in Brasil, as it was after climbing the first dune and being overwhelmed by such astounding beauty that bore witness to the birth of this post. Immediately that the different groups arrived at the dune’s peak, the selfie frenzy began. A succession of sometimes almost demonic teeth-exposed smiles are cracked, whilst flashes and buttons seal the selfie. There is also a peculiar pose that I have noticed, only amongst the female selfie snapper. What seems to happen is that the photographer thinks they will get their whole body into the picture, and so there is a kind of cock-legged stance adopted. I suppose kind of like a model shot, except not. The spare hand may even placed on the unseen hip too, adding structure and dimension to the photographer’s body, despite none of this appearing in the photo, as the lens can’t capture the whole length.
I immediately fell into judgment mode. Some of the thoughts I had in my internal dialogue went something like this:
Oh my goodness, what are they doing?
They look so silly!
How big are their egos?
Can’t they see what is behind them? It’s one of the most beautiful places on earth and they are all doing the FBPP (Facebook Profile Pose)?
Whilst in the middle of judging the voluminous FBPP crowd, I am then thrown into guilt mode, a mode that is very familiar to me still. I wonder why selfies bother me so much. I mean, nobody is hurting anyone. It’s almost like I fall into some kind of low versus high culture trap, where I see myself as a serious photographer, and those snapping away at themselves as rather crass and egotistical. Clearly this causes me great angst, as I have so much time on my hands to think of such things, and then I am interrupted by a beautiful Brasilian girl. She spots me, alone, with my SLR camera, taking photos of the dunes and rain-filled lagoons.
Do you want me to take a photo of you?
Ah, bless you, but no thanks.
Several minutes later, another girl approaches me.
Shall I take a picture of you?
No thanks. I am alright, but thank you so much.
I then feel even worse, as the innocence of these people and my judgment that places me in some kind of superior position to them, clashes.
I have a hard time having my photo taken. I literally want to curl up and hide when someone asks. Really, I think that’s just as egotistical if not more than the selfie crew. My shyness is a big fat ego that actually wishes I could be content taking the odd selfie here or there. With that in mind, I tried a few times to overcome this minor obstacle, as the gallery of photos will attest, and it wasn’t as hard as I thought.
And so, is there a point to these perhaps rather shallow ruminations? It’s very simple: don’t judge others in their creativity, for it is their own personal expression. If momentarily photography for the selfie-lover is about capturing themselves, well to some extent all photography is precisely that: an expression of yourself. I would prefer to turn my lens out into the world, but there is no reason whatsoever that everyone must concur. Hurrah to the selfie.