It’s a truth universally acknowledged that anywhere in the world that anything interesting is happening, people will be taking selfies in front of it. Famous landmarks, iconic artworks, legendary concerts - all of them have now become primarily interesting to us because of the opportunities they present for self-portraiture.
I’m sure that in Zen Buddhist temples everywhere, learned monks are now pondering whether, if a tree falls in a forest, it can truly be said to have fallen if nobody’s posted a selfie of themselves in front of it to Instagram.
When I travelled overseas recently, it was hard to tell what was more prevalent at some of the major landmarks that I visited - people taking selfies, or people selling selfie sticks. In some of the art galleries, you could barely see the paintings because of the thicket of people trying to get the perfect image of themselves in front of, for instance, Van Gogh’s Starry Night.
And everyone who wasn’t taking selfies was painstakingly lining up the borders of the artwork within their viewfinders to get the perfect photo. There was no chance of getting past the thicket of phones and SLRs a decent look at the painting . It took a lot of restraint not to shout “chill, it’s on the internet!”
I tend to think that photos of the world’s most spectacular sights aren’t improved by a photo of me in front of them.
(At least one museum had a ‘no smartphones’ sign at the beginning of an exhibition, which was very welcome. Can’t come quickly enough.)
I know I’m very much in the minority on this, but I tend to think that photos of the world’s most spectacular sights aren’t improved by a photo of me in front of them. For one thing, I’m reliably unphotogenic, and therefore a genuine detriment to any image. For another, when I’m standing in front of, say, the Grand Canal in Venice, I’m blocking the view.
Surely it’s enough just to take a photo of something, and say that you were there? You can even tag it with your location nowadays, just in case nobody believes you. Unless the point of the photo is that you’re with friends you don’t usually see, or you’re on a romantic holiday or something, we shouldn’t give in to the selfie urge.
The other infuriating use of our cameras is videoing concerts. These days, there are so many people holding up their phones at any given gig that you can barely see the band past them. We used to hold up cigarette lighters at particularly powerful moments - now the little points of lights all over arenas are from LCD screens.
We shouldn’t give in to the selfie urge.
As a result, YouTube is full of terrible concert videos, with shaky images and horribly distorted sound. They’re almost never worth watching, with the notable exception of a few Radiohead concerts where they asked their fans for footage and matched it with the proper audio mix.
Technology has created this problem, but fortunately, technology can probably solve it. Apple’s developing a system to disable smartphone cameras at specific locations is on the way, and I’m hoping new photography apps will make selfies obsolete. My nephew and niece are crazy about an app called LINE Camera (LINE is the Japanese WhatsApp) which can do all kinds of neat tricks. The face swap feature is the most popular, but I found a mode that puts a lei around your neck and a flower behind your ear, and writes ‘Hawaii’ on the top of the screen.
It doesn’t make me look like I’m in Hawaii, it makes me look like an idiot - but pretty soon, these apps will be able to make us look like we’re lounging on Waikiki Beach itself, or in front of the Taj Mahal or atop the Eiffel Tower. The selfie stick industry will experience an extremely welcome slump, because our phones will effectively Photoshop us in front of any background we fancy.
Then we’ll have to travel for the love of seeing other cultures rather than because we want exotic, jealousy-inducing photos to post on social media. I know it sounds like a crazy idea, but that’s quite honestly why people used to do it.