I always hated the ‘selfie.’ I thought it to be a great stain on our generation, much like misogyny was on my parents. I always saw it as a complete reflection of our narcissistic culture, a habit that perfectly captured societies blatant self obsession. This may sound a touch strong, but I have always seen the power of photography to be meant for so much more. I saw the selfie the same as Spiderman using his web slinging gift to do pull-ups in front of Mary Jane Watson. Since I was young I had seen such beauty in photography. I had been moved by the timeless portraiture of Vivian Maier, been connected to my birthplace by the work of Christian Fletcher, I had seen people capture amazing scenery with a simple point and shoot, and been pulled into their world because of the way they wielded their iPhone camera. I had seen this art fulfil amazing potential, but as I looked around I saw my friends, my enemies, and even those I admire turn it in on themselves, to advertise their pampered ‘good side,’ mirroring something I found so ugly.
At the same time that this distaste for the ‘selfie‘ grew, I was struggling more and more to justify my own photography. On a trip to New Zealand, I battled with the dichotomy of being in a moment, as well as trying to capture it. I battled with the impossibility of capturing a true landscape, with the power to manipulate using Photoshop, and the power of editing. I was disenfranchised by the absolute flood of photography on the internet, of work much much better than mine. I could not settle on who I shot for; was it for me? or to show my mum and dad? or is this image for an Instagram user I have never met? So despite knowing which photography I hated, I struggled to convince myself that my photography was any better. That was, of course until that one photo that changed my life.
It was at a small birthday drinks for a friend who is often out of town for business. The type of friend who is definitely successful, but the transient life is taking its tole bit by bit. At the party he seemed happier, lighter even. There were a few people there so I killed time chatting to a man about wine. It was close to the end of the night that I got a moment with him. We talk small thing first, “how’s the shop?” “How are wedding plans?” Then, like always, things went a bit deeper. He said he is happier this year, making a greater effort to eat with friends, to un-busy his life. I nodded along, and we laughed a bit, but there was a time when I needed to go. At that he pulled out a Polaroid camera from his table, and said;
“Selfie before you go?” he had a big smile on his face as I nodded. As we got into position he stopped and the camera hung near his stomach, as his face shifted from the bright smile to something more pensive. “This is one way I’m changing.”
“Taking more selfies?” I asked, waiting for more ammo I can use against the stain of my favourite medium.
“Yeah, but also more photos in general. I’ve been using it as a reminder. I’ve been taking more photos as a reminder that this moment, these years, they’re special, like…really special. Sometimes when I am working, it’s easy to forget that.” At that his smile returned, big and bright, he lifted the camera above our heads and snapped a photo of us both. A reminder. That that moment, and this one, they’re special. Like…really special.