What is photography – the idiocy of selfies

Friday 9 September 1664

After a difficult dinner party Pepys relaxes with his wife and family ‘singing and fiddling’

..and so back again home, and there my wife and Mercer and Tom and I sat till eleven at night, singing and fiddling, and a great joy it is to see me master of so much pleasure in my house, that it is and will be still, I hope, a constant pleasure to me to be at home. The girle plays pretty well upon the harpsicon, but only ordinary tunes, but hath a good hand; sings a little, but hath a good voyce and eare. My boy, a brave boy, sings finely, and is the most pleasant boy at present, while his ignorant boy’s tricks last, that ever I saw…

I have just watched a photographic competition on the ARTS channel, one place where you are almost guaranteed to view material of quality and depth. The contestants had to go home and film themselves without any firm brief.

The person who won the stage photographed their family including their parents and drew something new out of their relationship by their juxtaposition with a rugged mountainous landscape and the use of lighting. The least popular with the judges was of a female who went to great lengths to expose her inner self but was caught out by the judges for still wishing to hide from the camera. Other unpopular ones were simply boring – not saying anything. One of the judges said ” if you try to please everyone you will please no one “.
My question is – what can an image add to what is obvious.

Sad. who is she going to show it to. Who will be impressed? Why not focus on the view?

I do not know if the selfie habit has peaked but like High Fives, where people slap each other’s palms maybe in a bonding attempt to celebrate the most medial of achievements, I find the taking of selfies idiotic. The word idiotic comes from the word idiot, from idios ‘one’s own’. I see it as self centredness – the id being the self. The word “idi” meant “be deaf”, reference ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs approx 3,200 year ago.

But hey Mr Diarist don’t take the world too seriously. How could curmudgeonly people like myself possibly understand anything.

So can we get a definition of what photograph is? How about seeing a particular aspect of the world with all its variations and capturing it in such a way that others get the point. The photo has to say something. We almost need to get the image more real than reality. We need to capture the moment that communicates humanity and emotion.

I like these quotes

  • “Photography for me is not looking, it’s feeling. If you can’t feel what you’re looking at, then you’re never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures.”
    Don McCullin
  • “It’s one thing to make a picture of what a person looks like, it’s another thing to make a portrait of who they are.”
    Paul Caponigro
  • “To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”
    Elliott Erwitt
  • “The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.”

  • Dorothea Lange
  • “When I say I want to photograph someone, what it really means is that I’d like to know them. Anyone I know I photograph.”
  • Annie Leibovitz
  • “Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow.”
    Imogen Cunningham

I am not saying that selfies are bad, they are just vacuous. If you are so sad and empty you have to show that you were with some person or another, or at some place or another, what does that achieve? Why not actually look at what you are photographing and think about what it says to you. Point and shoot adds nothing irrespective of the subject matter.

For my own part I am not quite brave enough to shoot people in public places but expressions and body language are very telling and add enormously to the depth of what I am trying to say. We need to engage emotionally. There is a way of doing it which involves pointing the camera in the right direction but holding it at chest height not at eye height so people don’t feel so invaded.

As my diary goes on you will see a new trend of photographs involving people. Sometimes I want them to be part of a photograph as in the case of someone walking across the shot with an umbrella in the rain but they often being English hold back and even apologise. They are not invading my space they are involved in it and that’s great.

Watch this space

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