How to avoid culturally insensitive photography

As surely as day follows night, people (particularly teenagers, bless their derpy hearts) will continue to immortalise their poor decisions online.  For every Malala Yousafzai, Tavi Gevinson or other Inspirational Young Person™ there’s a thundering horde of feckless morons hell-bent on using social media to create interesting conversation topics for future job interviews, with the latest culprits being the idiots on Selfies at Serious Places. Selfies at Serious Places is a TUMBLR dedicated to collecting images of selfies taken at culturally inappropriate places such as Auschwitz or an unfolding crime scene.

By and large the snappers don’t appear to be terrible people.  They’re merely a wee bit dopey – at worst guilty of a gaping void where their sense of emotional intelligence should be, but mostly just having a series of slightly thoughtless moments that would have been better left unrecorded.  

Quite frankly, giving a kid a social media account and expecting them to use it in an emotionally nuanced fashion is like giving a typewriter to Warwick Capper and then being shocked when he fails to produce the Collected Works of Emily Dickinson. 

And this is not some novel form of deviancy – the sole unique feature of this generation is their unlimited ability to permanently document developmental stages best left shrouded in mystery.  I shudder to think what I would have put on Instagram had it been an option when I was a teenager (actually I have a pretty good idea, and let’s just say that the world is better off without a meticulously curated shrine to Leonardo  DiCaprio's  hair). 

And so it is with love and only slight exasperation that I risk acquiring truly Derryn Hinch-ian levels of social relevance by bitching about Young People Online, and offer this comment on the art-form of internet self-portraiture.          

Here's five times not to put yourself in the frame:

 

1. Do not selfie at memorials and grave sites

When taking a picture of yourself, take a nanosecond to ask yourself whether you’re in a place that is considered hallowed ground due to its status as a site of mass murder, or a perpetual memorial to the horrors of genocide.  If the answer is yes, then ask yourself, do you really want to emulate the guy in the picture above?  Look at his sweet, dumb mug.  That is the face of someone who shouldn’t use public transport unsupervised, who can’t be trusted with fire or sharp objects and who isn’t yet allowed to decide his own bedtime. 

grandma

2. Likewise funerals, dummy

Are you at your grandma’s funeral?  If yes, your picture is probably not going to cause pain to survivors of genocidal violence, but your parents could probably use some emotional support right now.  Put down the phone and go give your mum a hug, you big dope. 

3. Places of worship

Pop star Rihanna was asked to leave Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque complex this week for posing for ‘‘inappropriate’’ pictures outside one of the world’s largest Muslim places of worship. Even though she waited until she was outside (wearing one of Grace Jones’ old pantsuits and a pensive, middle-distance stare) this is not OK. Particularly with captions like, "B*tch stole my look" in reference to female passers-by also wearing headscarves.

4. Accidents and emergencies

Are you cruising past the scene of a tragic accident?  Get that grin off your face, get out of the way of emergency services and maybe resist the urge to photograph yourself taking delight at the tragic destruction of someone’s home? 

homeless

5. Finally, no matter where you are, don’t take photos of vulnerable people

Like, oh say, this guy did.  Charming.  Also, good citizens of Instagram, if you’re travelling overseas (particularly in developing countries), please don’t feel entitled to take photos of kids on the street, no matter how adorable they are.  

Firstly because it’s creepy - I’m continually astonished that people who would never in a million years stick their cameras in the face of an Australian child without permission from a parent or guardian are perfectly happy to take and post pictures of themselves high-fiving anonymous Kenyan street kids or Vietnamese fruit-vendors.   Also because, shockingly, kids in developing countries have the same rights to privacy and protection as everyone else.  Putting images of kids on open forums like Instagram or Facebook can provide a wealth of data to predators in countries which frequently have minimal ability to prevent or police the exploitation of children.

Follow these simple guidelines and we should all be able to avoid causing pain or distress, and get back to anticipating the absolute nightmare that elections are going to be in about 10-15 years time, when every candidate will presumably have a treasure trove of drunk teenage tweets to mine. 

My current theory is that we’re spiraling into a dystopian future where all power will be concentrated among a group of political elite groomed from birth to self-censor online.  Either that or a future where all candidate photos will feature duckface.  And I honestly don’t know which would be worse. 

29 comments

  • oh... so its ok for media personnel to have selfies as such reporting the incidents but not ok for anyone else... bit of a double standard thing going on here... lol...

    Commenter
    dz
    Location
    melbourne
    Date and time
    October 22, 2013, 8:45AM
    • Sometimes reporters standing outside anything and everything is obnoxious, but the key word there is still reporting. They're (or at least they're meant to be) conveying information to the viewer, not just taking a dumb pic going "look at me at the war cemetery lolol!".

      Commenter
      pb
      Location
      sydney
      Date and time
      October 22, 2013, 10:26AM
    • "They're (or at least they're meant to be) conveying information to the viewer"

      And how, for example, is standing outside a courthouse 'conveying information' when discussing an ongoing trial?

      It isn't, of course. It's just a method of subtly manipulating the viewer into thinking the reporter is actively out there 'seeking the truth' in the world, instead of what they are really doing - standing in front of a camera on some steps reading from a prepared script.

      Commenter
      DM
      Date and time
      October 22, 2013, 1:26PM
  • One should never selfie.

    One should aspire to photographing something worthy of remembering because you are at such a place/event.

    Selfies are for the narcissistic.

    Commenter
    Bender
    Date and time
    October 22, 2013, 8:49AM
    • "One should aspire to photographing something worthy of remembering because you are at such a place/event."

      Hear, hear !

      The guidelines of the article can be summed up in two words: Show respect.

      Commenter
      MainSail
      Date and time
      October 22, 2013, 10:38AM
    • i am curious and confused by the 'selfie'. what is the difference between a 'selfie' and taking a photo of yourself at an event or location? is the difference whether you are holding the camera or not? is the difference whether it is a phone or a proper camera? are selfies inpromptu? i am confused about the 'selfie' thing that everyone keeps harping on about...

      how are the photos of Rhianna 'selfies'? she obviously didnt take them, as she is some distance from the camera...

      @Bender
      am i a horrible horrible narcissist becuase i like to take photos of myself and my family at places and events?

      some people like to take photos of themselves. so if you dont like em, dont look at them.

      Commenter
      Dave
      Location
      Brunswick
      Date and time
      October 22, 2013, 11:22AM
    • No need to take a photo of yourself (whether you take it yourself - a selfie - or get someone else to take it for you). Take photos of things that are worthy.

      You know what you look like so taking a photo of yourself standing in front of something is pure narcissism.

      Commenter
      Bender
      Date and time
      October 22, 2013, 1:19PM
  • I dont think the problem is just selfies sometimes any kind of photography can be very damn disrespectful. I was visiting the memorial at Dachau last month and spotted families getting their kids to climb on the prisoners bunks and pretend to be sleeping for a great holiday snap. Or worst of all taking photos in crematoria.

    Commenter
    mumbles
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    October 22, 2013, 9:18AM
    • I think this reflects a more insidious problem that is festering within our youth and our society, not because of technology in the sense that tech created it (it did provide the fuel), but tech aggravated and also makes it prominent through its expansive reach.
      The irony of today's society is that we have never been as 'connected' as we have been since humanity began, but probably as well, never been this 'disconnected'. Meaning, the yawning chasm that divides our society grows wider and deeper than ever before in every possible way we can be divided - the class divide, the wealth divide, the generational divide - all due to a combo of many factors, such as the changing economies of various nations, etc, aided and aggravated by things such as technology and the ease/convenience which it allows us to project our best - and worse, qualities as individuals and as a society.
      One such disconnect is that of many of our urban youth (gen y gets the all bad rap here, some apt some not) and the world they live in contra to the "real" world is so distorted, disconnected - that they seem to either have developed an apathy or lack of understanding to real world issues/societal problems which they will not only inherit but will be ill-prepared to tackle and resolve. Granted, every gen developed their own unique way to resolve/tackle problems they inherited and gen y might do this too, but more worryingly, its how we as guardians encourage and even condone this behaviour rather than find it repugnant. We are part of the problem.

      Commenter
      Green Tea
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      October 22, 2013, 9:54AM
      • you are living with an old world (pre-IT) perception of the 'real world'. is it a 'problem'? is it 'repugnant'?

        its just a visible symptom of a societal shift. in society, the majority determines reality. as gen y (and beyond) become numerically superior to the older generations, their concept of the world will replace your concept of the 'real world'. in 20-30 years time, you may only publically exist through your on-line persona. who knows? in 20-30 years time, all the baby boomers will be dead, and there will be no-one in the first world who has not grown up with a computer.

        is that right? is that wrong? who can say. it might be evolution. it might not be. but personal interraction and relationships are changing drastically at the moment. that can be said.

        im not a gen-y (or whomever it is coming after them), so i dont understand it. but i can see the shift to the increasing importance of an online persona... for better or for worse.

        Commenter
        Dave
        Location
        Brunswick
        Date and time
        October 22, 2013, 11:32AM

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