Shameless Selfies and Casual ‘Peace’ Signs

It’s great to have an image as a souvenir of a special moment — whether you’re holding a wriggly little croc, posing with you’re pals or simply capturing a landscape. But as Google goes crazy for images and popular culture clicks furiously away on its collective iPhone, I can’t help but think that we’ve lost the sentiment at the heart of these ‘moments’.

After spending just eleven days on the road, I had already taken 925 photos. Most of them are pretty bad shots of temples, of my boyfriend Billy in random places or dodgy selfies including parts of both of us and unrecognisable backgrounds. While wandering around Bangkok’s Grand Palace I had to check myself. I was obsessively maneuvering myself around adorned window frames and beneath the glistening curve of dramatic rooftops and their tingling bells. I was consumed with the need to bring home the ultimate image, that defining shot that captures the essence of the magnificence before me. I wanted a piece of it for myself.

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What did I get? Hundreds of mediocre images I can blame on our cheapo point and press digital camera. Has this stopped the tirade? Not one bit. Unlike those precious days when photos were costly to develop, there is nothing to stop me from taking another 10,000 photos –apart from the the fact that we’ve already maxed-out Dropbox. The problem is that with every mindless click of that camera, the image is somehow cheapened. The moment loses its meaning with each retake, ‘wait, say cheese again’  or snap in motion– I am guilty of casually taking shots without even stopping.

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Surrounded by like-minded Asian tourists in Thailand, it was with a smug relief that I observed the endless two-fingered salutes. In a Chiang Mai restaurant I watched as a local lady sat across from her boyfriend and pet dog (yes, on a seat, in a restaurant), adding filters to Instagram photos on her iPhone. When his dinner arrived, instead of being released from his boredom her boyfriend was told to wait as she dived in with her camera, first taking close-ups of his dinner and then attempting to get a dual shot of his dinner and her dog, obviously. The question is, why are these mundane moments suddenly important and does making a v – sign with a big cheesy grin really add to your pictures of a temple that is more than five hundred years old?

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Our egos hold the answers. In an increasingly egocentric society, in which we can ‘pap’ and publicly publish photos of ourselves we all want to be seen in a certain light. Thanks to the likes of Facebook and other social media we now have control and ownership of our ‘image’, we can engineer how we are perceived — which leads to forced and sometimes uncomfortable photo ops. We are consciously structuring the meaning of these captured moments. Interestingly, so far on my travels, I have noticed that Asian tourists on the whole seem to lack an awareness of this. Western tourists aren’t far behind, but there tends to be more consciousness involved.

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In Chiang Mai, a childish panic came over me when I realised I had left my camera in the mini-bus while on my way up to the mystical temple of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. It didn’t seem to be enough that I was there to see it with my own eyes, if there were no photos, somehow it wouldn’t seem real,  I couldn’t own that moment and it would be lost. Luckily my boyfriend Billy brought me back down to earth. The greed for ‘more’ and the desire for ‘forever’ undermines the preciousness of that moment and yet it is probably what drives many artists who strive to record and present these gems. There’s nothing wrong with wishing to preserve a moment but in an extroverted society I think how you value it is especially significant.

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