As the first round of long weekends has come to an end, the timeline of my social media is filled with beach, pool and general sunshiny pictures. Board-shorts, bikinis and beverages fight for space on the never ending parade of portraits featuring faces in off-kilter angles and pressed close together to ensure they make the frame. The selfie rules and does so without any discretion, sense of perspective or good taste.
I never liked taking photos. I grew up with cameras where film had to be painstakingly inserted in a dark environment, and being neither nimble of finger nor very technically savvy, it discouraged me to own such a camera. The times I was persuaded to join in the fun of snapping away at an important family gathering or random birthday party resulted either in images of decapitated or limbless friends and relations or in a stack of inky black pieces of paper because I wrongly inserted the film.
The main reason I do not like using a camera though is that I feel it removes me from the experience. Using a device to look at reality makes me feel I am a commentator instead of a participant. While there have been times where that probably would have been a much more appropriate attitude, it sort of defeats the purpose of the experience for me. If I want the feeling of a second hand occurrence, I stay home and read a book, catch up with my girlfriends and hear about their relationships or watch a movie. If I make the effort of leaving my house and dressing up, I want to be part the action.
This principle works well for the photographers in the office, though; they use the perspective their cameras give them to tell the story of the realities that are taking place around the country. The sad, the angry, the hurt and the dead become more poignant through their lenses and their pictures are worth all those words while mine are mute.
Being in photos opens a whole Pandora’s Box of possible pitfalls. You may not want the world to be aware of where, with whom or in what state you were. As a teenager, I hid several photos in a box in a drawer because my parents would never understand that it seemed funny at the time. A snapshot is no more than a frozen moment in time and can be misleading or suggestive and lead to fights and recriminations. I have been through quite a few rounds explaining that all that happened was someone grabbing my arm and drawing me into the shot. Needless to say, the relationship did not last.
I have had headshots taken to accompany columns resulting in either glamorous versions or overly made-up versions of myself that I could never live up to and were never recognised by anyone. In contrast, the news photography I see everyday shows a stark version of reality that deserves to be highlighted, and makes these other images seem cheap and silly.
We all have the friends who insist on showing us their holiday snaps, which are either endless images of him or her at the beach, pool, restaurant or whatever else that predictably went on during their trip. Or they consist of several thousand images of nature or city streets that are actually nice, but a couple of dozen would have been more than sufficient. The digitisation of photography has a lot to answer for.
There is nothing wrong with sharing enthusiasm for what you have experienced. In that sense, the ubiquitous images of personal moments we are showered with these days are a natural progression of the self-conscious photos we used to ask others to take of us in front of important landmarks. Hand on top of pyramids anyone?
But there is a fine line between genuine pleasure in sharing, bragging and plain lack of perspective. I fully understand the fun in having your picture taken during a moment you are thoroughly enjoying, but the logistics of finding someone to take that photo and so having time to pose used to ensure a modicum of dignity that has completely disappeared in the world of cell phone selfies.
We are showered with drunken moments of stupidity, share in inappropriate intimate instants and are confronted with endless images of the same people grinning in the bus, train, street, on the couch, at work, in the pool, at the beach or wherever else they find themselves. I incessantly take selfies, therefore I am.
I understand the need of confirmation of existence, but I wish we would collectively find a different focus other than mindless self-absorption. With people living and dying in unspeakable conditions all around us, maybe a better use of our time is sharing otheries.