September 9, 2014

Of Selfies

This is a journey.  Stick with me to the end.  Please.

I remember the days when pictures were scarce.  When every picture meant something - it held a memory and was valued either as art or as a little bit of the past that would never come back again.  I got into photography to preserve the moment.  To be places, and being there at just the right time to catch a moment and save it, to cherish it.  It was about seeing things differently, or maybe just more clearly, and showing that.  There was substance and purpose.

Then the selfie was born.  At first it was fun to see my friends as they were —  right in the moment!  Getting on the roller coaster, seeing an old friend again, discovering the best coffee they had ever tasted.  They were being raw and open in a way I hadn’t seen before, and couldn’t have unless I was right there with them.  They overflowed with genuine.  There was positive emotion all over the place; excitement, happiness, joy, and surprise.  It made sense.  I’m excited and happy about this, of course I want to share it with the world! Think about it. You finally graduate!  You get engaged!  Your baby walks for the first time!  These are things you want everyone to know, almost regardless of personal relation.

But then the tide slowly started to turn.  Here’s my new haircut! My new lip-stick, my cat, my food, my sad face, my trip to the dentist, my trip to the mall, my roommate, my new shirt, friend 1, friend 2, friend 3, my dinner, my ride, my grade, my shoes, my provocative face, my pajamas, my tongue, my bathing suit. . . There was. . .so much.  I got exasperated for a number of reasons.  
1. If I didn’t take a picture of it, it didn’t happen. I started to feel this pressure to talk about and show everything on Facebook.  Having lunch with a friend? Post to Fb! Getting a haircut? Post to Fb!  Mowing the lawn? Post to Fb. Saw a cloud that looked like an alligator? Post of Fb.  Now.  Otherwise it didn’t happen and it doesn’t matter.  Instead of taking pictures because they meant something to me and I genuinely wanted to remember how this moment felt, I had to bestow meaning on an event by taking a picture and - oh wait!  One more time, that wasn’t quite perfect … hmm. move here, put that there and . . .

2.The picture isn’t real anymore. No problem with posing people - I’m a portrait photographer.  I’ve posed the daylights out of people.  Trust me.  But a medium (selfie) that used to be the epitome of genuine and spontaneous became a search for “perfection.”  Like, that one “real” picture of a messy bun?  Yeah, I spent 20 minutes fighting with my hair and then took 30 pictures with different expressions and angles till I achieved the perfect effortless look that is so popular these days.  Talk about lying through your teeth, er, hair that is. . . phone?

3. All purpose yuck category.  Self-obsession, masks, sexting, you name it.  Granted, it’s a fallen world and every medium has been corrupted in some way.  The selfie provided an acceptable medium for being utterly self obsessed.  It also provided a channel to show everyone a false version of yourself.  I won’t get into despicable things our sex-obsessed culture has skewed the selfie to be.

My exasperation grew to disgust.  “What is wrong with my generation?!” etc.  When camera came out my insides tightened and I felt like glaring at it instead of smiling.  When people who don’t speak more than 10 words to me every time I see them run up with a camera and want a selfie with me?  Yeah, I lost even more respect for them.  I was done. 

I hated the culture of fake and unconsciously started to hate the pictures and despise the people (p.s. not the right response!).  I missed sweet, sincere, and deep and I guess I thought selfies had become the opposite of that.  Slowly that attitude spread to pictures in general and I stopped taking pictures. I’m a photographer, remember?  Photos are my medium.  They were my love, and I couldn’t even pick up my camera without dread.  I would not — could not — perpetuate this fake.  I lost the vision.  I went from photographing an event because it had meaning to seriously doubting the meaning of the event if I saw someone taking pictures.

But my friends, I was wrong!  I was right, too, but I was in a ditch.  

Last weekend I dropped everything to spend the day with a friend.  I friend who’s moving on (both literally and figuratively).  There were 4 of us.  And it was special.  Nothing super exciting happened.  In fact, it was a pretty run-of-the-mill shopping trip.  But it meant something.  The conversations we had, he relationships we built, the fears we got over, the smiles and looks without words.  I’ll remember that silly trip to IKEA and I’ll treasure it.  I can do that, because someone took selfies and pictures.  Not a million, but enough.  Pictures by Natalie. :-)

And it was then that I looked around and saw dirt around me.  I realized the ditch I had been in and took a slow step towards the road.  I was wrong guys.  And I’m sorry for being a grump.  I’m trying to come back to the middle.

I got this saying from my Dad that I’m trying to live by.  It’s simply, “Keep in the middle of the road.”  We, ok, me.  I’m talking about me. I tend to polarize.  I land in the ditches on either side of the road.  I tend to think in Black and White, even when the reality is a beautiful grey.  So my life is this constant search for the truth.  A pendulum swing between the subtle lies of the world and the even subtler lies of the church.  And by church I mean religion.  But that is a topic for another time.  Today we’re talking about selfies.

I can’t say I’ve landed right in the middles and “arrived” at balance, but I’m getting there. I’m rediscovering the beauty of a moment.  The concrete memory in a picture and the joy it can bring.  There can be sincere and there can be deep and there can be precious in a selfie. 

 And there is freedom in this truth. 

1 comment:

  1. Yes!! I want to find the medium, too. I admire and appreciate your honesty and genuineness. Thanks Joanna.