A Selfie is NOT a Photo

Well, it is. I just needed to suggest a note about Selfies. With a particular view of a photo, I might suggest a limitation to the value of the Selfie.

I have very few photos of myself when young. I find them fascinating. I wish there were more. I see myself at the other end of my life. It helps me as I think about the course of my life, where it went. I wonder about that young person I see, what life looked like back then to me, what I was thinking, imagining even, constructing from within. I try to recall my perspective even now as I evaluate the influences on my life, why I made the choices I did. The photos help to take me out of the self I am now and back to that young person with everything ahead of him.

Recent generations have a lot of photos of their infancy and young life they will be able to examine in later life. Perhaps they will have deeper insight into themselves with more images of themselves. And not only images but video. They will see themselves talk and play and interact.

I have no experience of seeing video of myself. Even from now. I wonder if the experience of video is the same as looking at the still images of oneself. I have suggested elsewhere that the still images lend themselves more to contemplation and self discovery than moving images, but I’m not sure that applies when oneself is the subject. Being oneself the subject of the viewing lends itself uniquely to insights. This is just something I don’t know, have no experience of.

I do know when I see images of myself when young, I feel I am looking at someone else. Not seeing many images of myself and only seeing them rarely, hardly every year, I am not familiar with the image. That gives me distance from my younger self. I have all the time thoughts of my youth and write at length in my journal about the event, that is, more accurately, my perception of the events of my younger life.In all that thinking I kind of forget that I was young looking.

In my case, I’ve spent life working my way out of my youth, out of a wasteland I lived from age 12 to 27. That’s how I see it now, at least. Back then though, I knew I was lost. At age 11, I knew something was wrong, but had no idea what to do about it. And there were no adults in my life who showed any interest. Well, there was one spinster woman, but my family kept her at a long distance from me. She I hold in most precious memory. She cared for me I realized as i understood things better later on. The people I trusted most didn’t it took me a long time to appreciate.

So I have a different view looking back. The many people with similar stories to mine though may have the same sense looking back. I’m looking back at someone I don’t know. When I look into the photos of myself, I look for indications of how wrong I am in my sorting out of how things had been for me back then. I am very aware of the unreliable narrator in the telling of one’s own story.

I look back at that boy sitting at a the dining table for a birthday, for example, and i try to become him again, as honestly as I can try to understand all that was going on back then.

So what has this to do with the taking of a Selfie? So I was thinking how the photos of my youth that have been most illuminating were of me caught in a situation, a moment. The photos of me posed with others say very little to me. I project this to people’s photos today including themselves which are largely Selfies taken by themselves or them in someone else’s Selfie. Selfies are highly posed. So I wonder, will they mean that much later on in one’s life. I fear they may feel a bit self-absorbed, telling one that one spent there life thinking way too much about themself.

The photos that are most helpful to me, that catch me off guard in a moment, catch me while I interact with others, are let me say more a photo than a Selfie is. A Selfie might be a mirror we prune ourself in. A photo is a record of life.

I don’t see photographers taking pictures with their phones. I see them looking in the mirror at their visage or their meal or the exciting place they are so enamoured of themselves to be standing in.

A photograph grabs a slice of life. A photographer is seeing the world and framing some image that stops a moment in time. Smiling for the camera is not photography for me. It doesn’t seem to say much.

Now my photography is photographing people at events so there is an expectation that I get people looking into the camera and smiling. I love event photography but not for that. I love people, the gesture of the person that points to our humanity, a gesture that is an emotion or thought or longing. An unguarded moment. A moment without manufactured pretence, a mask presented to the camera.

I shoot fast. I make a comment that gets a reaction which I grab right away in the split second it happens, before all dissolves away into a fixed, cute smile or controlled expression. And especially when I use flash, I try to get that moment following the photo when the flash has gone off and the subject thinks the moment is over. Then in the next split seconds I get a true shot, a genuine representation of a human, a being, not the cardboard post card of the deliberate and practised pose.

To say the Selfie is not a photo is to encourage one and all to take photos, be a photographer. That means disappearing into the background, observing life as it passes before one, and selecting a moment when humanity reveals itself best. Snap. Subjects later in life looking at those photos may have more to see than put on smile asking the world to look at me. We see ourselves from a distance, through a detached viewer, a photographer, one who works hard to freeze a moment in time. That moment is when we see ourselves especially from the distance of long time past. Who I ask was that person, that younger me, caught with a pensive look into the distance? I take a deep breath when I recognize it was me. I thank the photographer for the memory. Grateful the photographer wasn’t off somewhere else taking a Selfie. Here’s the point I leave you to consider: a photographer is not about Selfies and so a Selfie is not a photograph.