Selfies are ruining history

By on Sep 1, 2014 in Blog Posts | 0 comments

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Boulevard du Temple by Daguerre

Boulevard du Temple in Paris by Louis Daguerre from 1838

The first known picture of a human was taken in Paris in 1838 by Louis Daguerre. It wasn’t intentional; the man receiving a shoe shine (in the bottom left corner of the photo to the right) was the only person in the frame long enough to be captured.

Many early photographs were of static objects like buildings and landscapes. These were easier to capture given the long exposure times required and would have been a more interesting subject matter for the public, many of whom would only see different corners of the world through images.

Fast forward almost two hundred years. Nearly two billion people now have a camera in their pocket, many of whom take pictures of inane objects, including themselves, every day. Not because it’s important to document a critical moment in their personal or cultural history, but because they want to show friends what their outfit or hair or new whatever looks like.

There is nothing wrong with sharing your life with friends and family and having a camera always available to document it can be very useful, but at some point in the near future we’re going to look back and realize that we’ve gone too far. Our history will be pictures of faces with backgrounds. See Johnny with part of the Grand Canyon behind him. See Johnny in front of a sliver of the Statue of Liberty. Here’s Johnny with ex-girlfriend number eleven in front of maybe a hot dog stand.

Who cares?

This isn’t a problem that existed before social media. Remember when pictures were taken on film which had to be developed? Your mom would treat each shot on the roll like gold, especially the last one, which often went unused because no event merited it. Just before taking the roll out of the camera to be developed you would be allowed to take a picture of your mom or a tree or yourself. That was probably the only selfie on the entire roll of film, and everyone was fine with that.

We don’t take pictures of ourselves for ourselves; we do it to show off. How many pictures have you taken in a set before you posted the one you thought would get the most “likes” on social media? How many poses did you try before you got it right? When was the last time you took a picture of yourself just for you or a loved one, that you didn’t intend to share with everyone you know? Think about your favorite picture of yourself. I’d be willing to bet you didn’t take it at all. It’s the one as you were in that moment; not as you wanted people to see you. We should all have more pictures taken of ourselves and let that be our record. Life, with all it’s beautiful variety, should never be reduced to a face with a background.

P.S. – There is an interesting phenomenon where women take pictures of their feet. I don’t understand the purpose of this, but it seems to be a way to show off their shoes in different settings. Often near leaves. I think this is a far better use of photographic technology than the selfie. Just the fact that a face isn’t involved makes it more interesting.