The Travel “Selfie”

There are few things in this life that are enduring, certainly not many that stand the test of time. From dust to dust, ashes to ashes the same fate is met, and what once was, becomes no longer. Intuitively we know this. We (tick tock, tick tock), human beings, run a somewhat futile race to create, to conquer, and to carve a name for ourselves in history, something that we will be remembered for.  For some, their names are set in stone, erected in front of buildings, whilst others have films and books written in honour of their lives lived. Then there are those whom wish to positively affect their immediate circle of influence through shared experiences, memories and life lessons that we impart. And for the wayward traveller, whose eyes are forever fixed upon the horizon and whose heart is in distant places, it’s as simple as the memories we hold onto and the memorabilia that we cherish. The travel ticket butts, the theatre program from a night at a Viennese opera, the shell from a Tahitian summer, a dried flower from an old Parisian flame, ignited by pastries and perfume or perhaps the notorious ‘selfie’. Ah yes! The controversial 21st century “look at me” moment depicting how glorious your life is, and sharing it with all of the cyber-sphere on a global scale. How narcissistic! Or is it?  Is the much debated ‘selfie’ moment, really simply an opportunity to indulge ones ego, or do the motives underlying these actions run deeper? And if these motives do run deeper, how much deeper? Is it fear? Insecurity? A sense of connectedness? A desire to share, or perhaps a deep seeded need to date and time stamp a moment. After all, isn’t it said, that if it’s not tweeted, Face- booked or Instagramed, then it never happened?

The life of a writer is both lonely and lively all at the same time. Lost in our thoughts and ideas, conversing with an incessant mental stream of dialogue that runs through our mind, as if we are always writing. We think in terms of prose, as if we are constantly scripting, and in doing so our eyes are wide, open and observant. Consuming those around us, trying to derive meaning and gain insight into the world we live in and empathy for the people around us. In doing so, I’ve found myself considering and trying to understanding the ‘selfie’. There are so many different types of ‘selfies’, from the fashion forward icons, trending what’s hot and what’s not, to the artistic appreciators using portraiture as creative expression, then there is the traveller’s selfie and of course, the notorious subject of much gossip, ‘narcissistic selfie’.

From a Traveller’s perspective as opposed to the ‘everyday selfie’ which depicts, I ate an awesome lunch and worked hard at the gym, look at my new high heels, the danger of failing to appreciate the message and beauty of many travel accounts is because the selfie is mentally processed with the assumptions that we apply when viewing the ‘everyday’ type selfie of narcissists social media accounts. Unless you have travelled yourself, or have an innate sense of wanderlust, then there is no foundation for understanding. The adage “To completely understand someone, you must walk a mile in their shoes” is what is missing in this instance, and so judgement and criticism often follows some of these posts. How do I know this? Well, simply put, I have the blessing of insider’s knowledge. Being a traveller I am aware of my motives and feelings whenever I upload a travel selfie, (as a quick lets be real disclaimer, only very occasionally will we post because we get a good pic of ourselves), and therefore recognise in other travellers when they too post this way. But what about those that have no experience in this area, and consequently have a limited ability to empathise and connect with the Traveller’s message? Well, this message is for them. To raise awareness and explore the two following ideas. Primarily, there are visual clues within the image that the photographer deliberately uses to communicate with us. Secondly, and this one is as old as time, history is interlaced with great people from great moments, painted in great places doing great things. Are they a narcissistic, attention seeking, nuisance? Perhaps (some of them may have been), but arguable I’d say these paintings serve a historical purpose. They tell a story, and account for an event that transpired.

Recently a very well-liked, popular blogger was criticised for oversharing selfie moments whilst travelling. These comments sparked further criticism, which revealed how many people don’t understand why we often photograph ourselves with our back facing the camera.  Snarly comment after narky, jealous comment emerged and all I could think of as I was reading them (no it wasn’t me by the way), was the French film “Amelie”. The beautiful, quirky character Amelie who decides to skip town and soirees around Europe, visiting new and wonderful places. Each encounter with an iconic monument or landmark the character Amelie photographs, using a ceramic garden gnome ornament that accompanies her on her travels. In Amie’s journey she uses the garden gnome as though it were an Avatar in her place. The garden gnome for so many of us as Travellers is representative of our ‘selfie’. This is our motive – I. Was. Here. It is our legacy when the moment is over. When the years have merged into one another, and we sift through the memorabilia of our life events, the ‘selfie’ validates that yes, this did happen. Yes, I was really that tanned, with a sun-kissed glow, and a bikini bod (if that’s you), and I lived. Loved. Laughed. None of these moments are a figment of my imagination, because I have the selfie that depicts how full of vitality that moment truly was.

So what of these visual clues that I mentioned earlier, well look closely. Often the photograph is trying to convey a meaning, a feeling or leave an impression. Set aside your own insecurities and prejudices (like oh, she’s skinny does she eat) or (why is her Louis Vuitton bag in a pic when Bora Bora is the subject) and allow yourself to process the subtleties of body language, subject placement (ie: composition), is the person in the foreground or background, where is the photographs visual focus point, what is blurred and what is in focus. I know for me, I am a huge fan of sharing photos with my back to my audience, because the travel moment that I choose to share is my moment. That is the message I want to convey. That here I am, soaking this up, and with my back to the viewer it represents that voyeuristic moment. That you are an outsider looking in to a very private moment, which I’ve chosen to share. I’ve granted you insight into an intimate experience where I’m absorbing my environment. Where I am deliberately vulnerable to the profound experience of travel.  So our motive isn’t about “look at me, look at me”, but more about, “Feel what I feel, I’m soaking this moment up, I’m oblivious to everything around me. My back is towards you. Treasure what I treasure, here I am, this is real, I want to share this with you.” This is the motive of the “Traveller’s Selfie”.IMG_0300

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  1. When I first started travelling, I took pictures of myself, IN places all the time. Then after awhile, I stopped taking so many pictures of me, and started taking pictures of places, people and moments. A selfie shows the world that You Were There, a tourist on a beach, in front of the Eiffel – but photographs that speak of a memory, serve as a reminder to the traveller of the sight, sound, colour, movement and emotion of the moment. And that’s why I think the debate raged on about the purpose of selfies as opposed to that of real photography.

    • Thanks for stopping by and sharing your perspective. You are so right, the debate certainly is varied and at times controversial. I definitely wouldn’t disagree with you on the aspect of photography, as not many selfies can compare with the craft of the well honed expressive eye of a gifted photographer. But on a personal note, when I sift through my own travel pics and I look at some of my landscape photos. or places (and I love those pics too), but I often look at them and feel like I screen printed them from a Google image web search. Kind of like a piece of artwork than the artist doesn’t sign. It’s his, but only because he knows it to be. That signature is his little mark of “I am part of this”. But hey, that’s just me 🙂 I appreciate your insight. 🙂

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