By Shelley Luedtke
“Mom, look this way.” Ugh.
My oldest daughter was getting set to take a family selfie on our summer holiday. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad we have the pictures, it’s just that the whole set up of getting a decent group selfie (correction: usie, wefie, or groufie) is…well, rather ridiculous.
You have to simultaneously lean/squat/stretch and strain to get your heads positioned correctly all the while looking like the blissful and carefree vacationers you want to capture. Due to the closeness of the phone, limited by the arm length of the one taking the shot, noses and chins can look rather disproportionate, or the angle is decidedly unflattering which then sparks the call to immediately delete it.
Selfies are nothing new. The term can be traced back about 16 years but the practice goes back to the 1830’s. The first self-portrait required photographer Robert Cornelius to uncover the lens, run into the shot and hold a pose for three or more minutes. Yes, minutes.
In 1920 a photographer held a camera at arm’s length and gathered other men into the shot. The reason we know it happened in this manner is because another photographer took a picture of the group shot as it was occurring. There is photographic evidence to verify this group selfie. That picture is now part of a larger collection tracing the history of the genre—yes, genre. Selfies have been classified as a genre unto itself.
The picture taken 100 years ago required a tremendous amount of time and equipment. Today they are easy to create and share, and give us total control over the way we want to present ourselves to the world thanks to filters, editing, and of course the delete button.
Then again, perhaps this is what we do every day without being fully aware of it. We put on the public face, present the image we believe is expected, and do our best to filter out what we think others won’t want to see, or know, or even…accept. If we have people in our lives willing to push past the image to find out what’s really going on, we can be particularly grateful. It means there are people wanting to invest in who we really are—not who we want others to think we are.
Some might find humor in remembering sitting through someone’s vacation slides or sifting through stacks of photos of the new baby, or the neighbor’s family reunion or a graduation. But something was going on beyond the sharing of images. It was people gathered together to hear stories, to ask questions and to share in something that was so meaningful they wanted to share it with others.
Sharing with someone is such a special activity. It is an act of giving. It involves taking something and dividing it among those you are with. It is including others and having them be a part of something with us. We learned to share as children. It may have been hard at times but we reaped the joy in sharing our toys which made playing so much more fun. As we grew older we saw the blessing in taking what we have and making other people part of it. It bears little resemblance to what we do now; posting something on-line and waiting for the validation from others to come rolling in.
Repeated studies over the last five years indicate that an increasing number of photos being posted on-line is correlated with lower levels of social support and connectedness with friends. In an effort to let everyone know what we are doing we are spending less time doing anything with those very people.
Pictures can capture a moment and preserve it, and they can also convey a message, but we can’t let the pictures we post replace communication. Instead of asking people to observe our lives on a digital platform we also need to engage with others in a manner that lets us see what’s happening behind the smiles and between the shots. Rather than “I’m here, look at me,” it could be “I’m here, let’s share.” That’s my outlook.