Everyone’s a photographer

What was the most talked about, shared and re-tweeted photo of the 86th Academy Awards? Was it Jennifer Lawrence tripping over her dress (again)? Was it Steve McQueen proudly scooping Best Picture for 12 Years a Slave? No, it was a grainy, slightly out of focus selfie. Even if it was taken by Bradley Cooper.

US presenter Ellen DeGeneres tweeted the photo of Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Julia Roberts et al and managed to crash the social networking site with the most re-tweeted photo, ever. Whether it was a spontaneous snap or a carefully crafted product-placement stunt for Samsung is a debate for another day, but it shows the magic of a selfie going viral.

Technology has afforded all of us to be a photographer, even if we are not all that good. Digital cameras are cheap: even DSLRs can be used on auto by anybody with a straight aim. The iPhone gives everyone a chance to snap and to share. Instagram, Flickr, Tumblr, and Photoshop make editing and sharing images universally accessible. Forget rose-tinted specs, our memories of the early 2010s will be viewed through the shades of Nashville and Earlybird.

We are living life through a lense. Who doesn’t love to take that iconic picture: arms stretched outside the Hollywood sign, touching the tip of the Pyramids with your finger, or pushing the leaning tower of Pisa? Of course documenting your adventures and sharing your travelling experiences is fun, but increasingly, we live life less in the moment and more in the megapixel. People joke: “If it’s not on Facebook, it didn’t happen,” but there is a creeping need for validation and to affirm you were there, wherever “there” happens to be. It can be pretty irritating when you go to a gig and everyone puts their iPhone up, blocking your view. Festivals today are illuminated not by lighters but by the white glow of LCD screens. Sometimes, it’s important to use your senses: really hear the music instead of worrying about taking an inevitably blurry photo for Twitter, or taste the obligatory pulled pork burger you’ve ordered without micro-blogging a low-light shot of the artisan bun first.

Photography has become the new democracy – everyone is entitled and able to take part. And part of the taking part is receiving validation for your efforts. You might have had a rubbish week at work, or feel your job doesn’t allow any room for creativity, but you can Instagram a pic of your artfully placed cocktail against a vintage backdrop on a Friday night and watch the likes and the favourites roll in for something you’ve created.

It’s human nature to want to document, and you could argue that it’s easier to take a visual representation of the thing you want to share than it is to write about it. The #100happyday challenge asks users to document an image every day, for 100 days, of something or someone that makes then happy. The website blurb warns: “It is not a happiness competition or a showing off contest. If you try to please or make others jealous via your pictures – you lose without even starting.” Seems like #100happydays have a pretty good insight into the reasons why we photograph, and share.

But is there a backlash against all this showing off? The popularity of #nofilter shows people want their shots to be seen for the photography that they are rather than the Photoshop they aren’t. Last year’s “hot dog or legs” Tumblr hilariously ridiculed the latest selfie: Instagram-tanned legs peeking out from a lounger on the beach, mojito in hand, sun gently dappling the duck pond still sea. We’ve seen it all before – everyone’s a photographer, now. All this self-promotion seems a bit, well, passé. When David Cameron is photo-bombing in on the selfie act too, maybe it’s time to move on.

Read the original article in The Leeds Debacle (p31), here.