“Selfie- A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam. Often shared via social media.” The Oxford Dictionary.
I visited Kanchanaburi in Thailand this year, home of the bridge over the River Kwai. This bridge was made famous by the 1958 movie of the same name, based on the hardships endured by Allied prisoners during the Second World War. During one of my daily crossings of this bridge with millions (and millions) of tourists doing the same, I noticed something; the vast majority were wandering around aimlessly, waving an extendable stick above their heads, taking pictures of themselves. I assume, based on thorough observations, that ownership of these selfie sticks gives a person the right to completely ignore everyone else, due to the fact they were the only people not watching what was in front of them. For the record this isn’t the recommended method of crossing an active railway bridge. Every ten metres or so was a standing platform; an area where tourists could safely congregate if a train did happen to come creeping past. Finding room here was just as challenging; they were already crammed full of even more selfie snappers, myself included.
This got me thinking about the evolution of the dreaded selfie- the ugly little cousin of actual photography.
Before the emergence of iPhones, selfies were merely a comedic tool, taken only when you found a friends camera (yes, camera) foolishly unattended. You would take a snap, usually out of focus with half your face missing, and return the camera to whence it came. Your friend would then develop these photos (yes, develop) weeks, perhaps months, later and when they saw your little prank they would laugh and laugh and laugh. You see, selfies weren’t something you wanted to waste a good photo on.
Things are slightly different these days. There seems to be a selfie for every occasion.
Watching a morning television report, I was informed there are such things as divorce selfies now. How this is news worthy is a more concerning issue, but ridiculously they exist. Usually they take place out the front of a court house, divorce papers in hand, with your ex-spouse by your side. Curious.
Then there are the selfies seemingly reserved for social media. The “Look at me, aren’t I beautiful” selfie. Secondary school students and gym junkies are particularly fond of these. Pouting is essential and usually mandatory. Throwing in a peace sign is an optional extra. A close second in popularity stakes is the “Yep, I’m drunk again” selfie. This is mainly for memory recall (Ahh, I was at that nightclub. Interesting) and is dominant on the weekends. in these photos, the more distorted your face is, the better. Having someone of the opposite sex in the picture is crucial. It provides evidence for those friends who doubt your ability to seduce, well, anyone. The poser must be holding a drink for authenticity purposes and to prove how ‘crazy’ you are.
Travel selfies are incredibly popular for completely different reasons. At every major landmark I have ever visited, and I mean every, I have watched people strain for several minutes, taking pic after pic attempting to get the perfect photo. One will be missing half a head, the next will be crooked and the next will be out of focus. Walking away these people fail to realise that they are missing the actual landmark they came to visit. “That’s a lovely photo dear,” your grandmother will say, “But where are you?” “Umm…that looks like a Buddhist temple in Thailand, Gran. See look, that looks like the gold foot of a statue, I think.” If travelling alone, though, sometimes you have no other option if you want to be in a photo. Desperate times call for desperate measures. I once tried to snap a quick picture of myself in front of a raised Tower bridge with a boat passing underneath. Not that you’d know it by judging by the end result- my head pretty much cut out the most important features and I was too self-conscious to make another attempt.
Further ground breaking journalism informs me that more people have died taking selfies than have been killed by sharks. Unfortunately, I am unaware of the stats on people being killed by sharks while taking selfies. That would be a far better news report. For the record, more people die in car crashes, aeroplane disasters, elephant attacks and being hit by falling coconuts than by sharks. Just something to think about.
Don’t get me wrong, selfies do have a place in the photography world. They are purportedly simple, even if the girls taking bikini snaps of themselves appear to make the task difficult. They can show your mood and reflect a moment you are revelling in. Whether that is happy, sad or indifferent does not matter. They are a form of self-expression and I appreciate that. But I draw the line at the continuous need to take a steady stream of photos to document every movement made.
So what have we learned here today? People are clearly more willing to die taking a photo of themselves than appreciating the views around them all for the sake of the perfect selfie- a photo that will look good on a picture board at a birthday or as a social media bragging point and not much else. Maybe it’s the need to have technology in your hand, but less is more, as they say. Try and remember that next time you decide to take a selfie every five minutes of the day.
Wayward Tip: take some normal pictures! They are the ones you hang on your bloody wall. Or better yet, converse with people and ask someone to take the photo. Not many people will knock you back.
Featured on Huffington Post Australia.