Losing one’s self in selfie moments

Losing one’s self in selfie moments


Part of Friday Inspirations, an ongoing MEX series exploring tangents and their relationship to better experience design.

Two rather different sources have inspired some musing on the evolving photographic ritual of self-regard.

Sam Barsky knits scenery into sweaters. He then visits the scene and photographs himself wearing the jumper using a smartphone and selfie stick, a hobby recently covered by the BBC.

Here is one of his more famous works, entitled: ‘London Bridge’ (he’s not the first American to have made this mistake, allegedly):

On 29th May 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first people to reach the summit of Mount Everest. There is no photograph of Hillary at the top, as he explains in High Adventure, an extract of which I found in The Oxford Book of Exploration (Robin Hanbury-Tenison):

“I took my camera out of the pocket of my windproof and clumsily opened it with my thickly gloved hands. I clipped on the lenshood and ultra-violet filter and then shuffled down the ridge a little so that I could get the summit into my viewfinder. Tenzing had been waiting patiently, but now, at my request, he unfurled the flags wrapped around his ice axe and, standing on the summit, held them above his head…

…the thought drifted through my mind that this photograph should be a good one if it came out at all. I didn’t worry about getting Tenzing to take a photograph of me – as far as I knew, he had never taken a photograph before and the summit of Everest was hardly the place to him how.”

If Hillary and Norgay had reached the summit for the first time in 2017, it is unlikely Norgay’s inexperience with photography would have stood in the way of Hillary and a triumphant selfie. Similarly, it is inconceivable the expedition and Hillary himself would not already have given extensive thought to the visual documentation of the ascent. Their options would be myriad: body-mounted GoPros, smartphones selfies…even companion drones hovering alongside them, filming every moment.

For many in 2017, the act of travelling itself is influenced by the ritual of the selfie: telescopic sticks and searching for wifi or cheap roaming data to share the moment as quickly as possible with a social network.

The barriers of both etiquette and technology have disappeared rapidly, such that in a a few short years selfies have evolved from a conspicuous spectacle to a ubiquitous expectation.

As a result, there is a growing pressure for creative differentiation. When a user’s social network has already been subjected to numerous faces hovering in front of Tower Bridge or the State of Liberty, what can the individual user do to justify dumping yet another of these photos into the feeds?

Pressures like these, sub-conscious or otherwise, have a habit of unlocking creativity within certain people.

Sam Barsky responded by taking up knitting. His combination of traditional craft and digital photography is unique – for now – and sufficiently inspiring in its beautifully weird way to be covered by an international news organisation.

Others are turning to double acts, choosing to differentiate their selfies by always photographing themselves with a particular teddy bear travelling companion: ‘Look, here’s me and Pookie at the Eiffel Tower’. I suppose these are technically a kind of human/ursine grouphie?

More common still is to seek some digital augmentation. Filters, badges – even superimposed weather and location data – can all now be overlayed on the typical monument selfie, in the hope your contacts won’t simply sigh and think: “Not another Everest summit shot…”

It leaves me wondering two things:

  1. How will this meta layer of digital augmentation place photos at a point in time? Will the trend for photos with superimposed weather and emojis, for instance, allow viewers in 50 years time to instinctively know, ‘Oh, that’s a 2010s shot’, in the same way certain photographic stock denotes the 1950s or 1970s?
  2. What will be the next large-scale creative trend after selfies? The human desire to preserve themselves in a moment is timeless, but surely the smartphone snap is not the zenith of this desire for self-regard?

Part of Friday Inspirations, an ongoing MEX series exploring tangents and their relationship to better experience design. We explain the origins of the Inspirations series in this MEX podcast and article.  Share your own inspirations on Twitter at #mexDTI.