In Praise of Selfies in the Mountains
I want to say that I think selfies are potentially beautiful and ridiculous and fun and ultimately sublime attempts to capture your own soul when others have perhaps failed. We’re not movie stars but we exist right now at this exact moment and one day we won’t. We exist now in this world where every 30 seconds we’re told in one way or another that we’re going to hell in a hand basket. And at the very same time we’re streaming Bach and Beethoven and Prince and Taylor Swift and in my case Bruce Springsteen right into our ears into our brains and eating ice cream and watching the news silent on a large screen while we scroll through Twitter with sore wrists. And once in a while we find ourselves in front of ancient rocks and know ourselves to be as small and insignificant as ants, and we can celebrate that, too, and be creatures full of joy and awe.
There’s something particularly glorious about taking your photo in front of a mountain, in front of a pristine lake. You’re right there with Marilyn Monroe, and who knows what other celebrities. But also, it’s you and the mountain, and no one else. (Well, for a few seconds, anyway).
Yes, I took quite a few photos in which there were no people, but in the end these were my favourite photos. People having fun, not dying or falling, not drowning but posing, with all their might and fierceness, bringing their selfie game to what may be a once in a lifetime trip to the mountains.
There’s a long poem excerpted on Poetry Foundation by Tommy Pico which is staggeringly full and beautiful, and here is a short bit from it:
ford says lighting is everything Take a selfie from the sun-
blown window Even supermodels say “lighting” It’s comforting!
But there’s also value in exposing yr engine #BadSelfie Archaic
but also so fresh: self-expression Trust is a thing that guides
you thru a feed The voice like a handshake I’m in front of you
There is paper and a trade-off This is ancient, like pixel drift
What’s under the hood of irritation We call complication a knot
A knotted life that doesn’t get to be undone Who here has a
clear, linear rope? Denial! You have to love yr knots You have
to shout them out Curate if need be Janet turns her knots into
songs Sonic beauty (tho fuck beauty) Knot is the response
I like the way Pico throws it all into his poem, the modern world, the drama, the ridiculousness of it all, the comfort/discomfort of real surreal things like Cindy Crawford talking about lighting. It’s easy enough to edit all this stuff out and pretend you’re alone in the mountains in front of a pristine lake, with atmospheric clouds, and sturdy rocks, but maybe it’s good to know too, that we’re all vying for a spot on the cliff, hoping not to fall off, or twist our ankles. We’re waiting our turn, we’re capturing who we are in one instant, which will change the way we are in the next one. We are here and we are beautiful. We are fresh.
Lastly, there’s an interesting article about selfies and self-identity in museums, but could also apply to mountain parks, on Frontiers in Psychology, that begins:
“Selfies, digital images characterized by the desire to frame the self in a picture taken to be shared with an online audience, are important reflections of the contemporary self. Much extant psychological research on selfies has taken a pathologizing view of the phenomenon, focusing on its relationship to narcissism. Our investigation seeks to contribute to a holistic, contextualized and cultural perspective. We focus on the context of museums, places where art, history, education, and culture merge into the selfie taking behaviors of patrons. First, we explore theory salient to our topic of selfie taking, finding selfies to be an important way to construct ongoing series of narratives about the self. We use concepts of identity work, dramaturgy, and impression management to understand it in this light. We relate embodiment within the museum to the selfie’s performative acts and expand upon notions that emphasize and distinguish the aesthetic elements present in many aspects of everyday life. We also question the ability of the museum selfie to destabilize. We also explore the contextual effects of mimicry and social norms. After describing our ethnographic and netnographic method, we investigate the museum selfie phenomenon. We begin with some observations on the extent of selfie-taking in contemporary culture as well as its evolution. Then, we consider selfies as a type of dynamic art form. Our analysis identifies a range of different types of museum selfies: art interactions, blending into art, mirror selfies, silly/clever selfies, contemplative selfies, and iconic selfies. Considered and studied in context, the museum selfie phenomenon reveals far more than the narcissism of the sort explored by past psychological research. The museum provides a stage for identity work that offers an opportunity for the selfie to be used not only for superficial performances but also in the pursuit of more profound self-reflection and its communication. Our ethnographic exploration of the selfie sees it as more than a quest for attention but less than a genuinely destabilizing social force. Selfie taking is complex and multidimensional, a cultural and social act, a call for connection, an act of mimicry, and part of people’s ever-incomplete identity projects.”
I really like that this article is looking at and taking the selfie seriously as a means of self-expression, building self-identity, and as an art form, rather than merely as a reflection of a narcissistic personality. Women, in particular, have been portrayed (still are) through the history of art, mainly, by men, and the popularity of the selfie/self-portrait has such interesting potential. I’m curious….how do you, or do you selfie? What is your relationship to the phenomena?