Back in the early 90's, my neighbor's mother often visited from Minnesota. Marge, well into her 60's, dyed her hair red and loved having her picture taken with famous people. Not too many famous types hung out in Austin at that time, but if they were here, Marge found them. Always got a picture and always found herself in the photo as well.
Her daughter-in-law calls her the original Photo Bomber. She didn't get famous people to pose with her like the selfie shots posted on Facebook and everywhere else. She didn't interrupt their business and have their arms slung around her like they were best buds. Nope. Not Marge. She made it look like she was with them. Part of their entourage.
When the men's Legends golf tournament was in town, I'll be darned if Marge didn't get a photo taken strutting down the cart path beside Chi Chi Rodriguez, like she was carrying his putter or something. She and Chi Chi out vying for a win on the senior golf tour.*
Marge, a mother of nine, must have trained her children at an early age to get the perfect shot. I imagined her thrusting the camera into their hands and saying, "Okay, I'm going in. Get this right."
When Queen Elizabeth came to town (for the life of me I can't remember why the Queen was in Austin, Texas) it didn't surprise me when my neighbor shared a photo of Marge, standing just behind the queen. Photos fresh from the one-hour Fotomat and Marge snickering as she viewed it.
Last Christmas Day, my husband and I flew to New York City. After Christmas Eve with the four kids in Austin, we spent the rest of the holiday with the boy who couldn't come home. That Bama Boy turned Chef.
As we wandered the crowded city streets (NYC is a busy place, but Midtown at Christmas? Ridiculous.) I noticed an inordinate number of blind people. So many walking around in a group with their white-tipped walking sticks folded up, unused in their hands.
About to mutter something stupid to my son about a blind person convention on Christmas Day, I noticed that the wadded sticks didn't have white tips. That occurred about the same time I almost tripped over an extended one. One that dangled a smart phone on the end of it.
I quickly became familiar with the digital accessory (clean up your mind, Julie) also known as the Selfie Stick. Designed to improve one's Selfie experience by easing arm health and extending the scope of one's photo while affording an opportunity to spend more time taking photos than enjoying what is in front of one's face. Followed then by standing in front of said place/item of interest and examining if photo is good enough or needs a retake. Then, still standing in place while posting to social media while others in the vicinity await their turn to Selfie or just want to see the shit in front of them.
Yes, I ran out of patience with them. Everything I wanted to see, like the window displays at Macy's or a favorite painting at the Met, I patiently awaited my turn for a glimpse while the selfie groups crowded around me. I couldn't help but wonder why everyone wanted to busy themselves taking a picture with something important behind them. Where was the joy in seeing it, studying it? Taking a photo of the item itself for later enjoyment and recollection? Not staring at their mugs on a tiny screen.
Where did this narcissism come from? This need to be seen with the famous or the famed. The need to see one's own face plastered on tiny computer screens to mark their presence for the world to see.
Of course, I need to remember that I hate having my photo taken and I'm not as much into individualism as the Average Joe. Humble about it, too. Would I really like to stand in front of a famous painting and snap a photo of myself? Imagine standing in front of a Picasso. What would be the point?
I mean, would I be saying, "I posed for this painting?" or "Am I as fat as this bitch?"
Seriously. I so would not do anything like that.
Yes, I do. But I have a reason. I'm there on a limited time schedule. My husband is with me and I only have a certain amount of time before his head explodes. It's like being in a race. Taking photos lets me linger on the subjects long after we've left the museum or famous site. I also get to see more as I can't imagine ever getting him back so I move quickly, taking in all I can get.
And me, being the art expert that I am, take my photos so I can study them at a later date. Like the texture in this Van Gogh.
I could examine the ferocity in those brush strokes for days. Consider the flurry of what went on in Vincent's mind as he loaded his palette with more and more paint. Even wonder if he painted it while contemplating cutting his ear off or while it hurt like hell after. Okay, maybe not that.
Back to individualism and the Selfie Stick. Would that Van Gogh painting have been better for you if I were standing, say, right in the middle? No, and that again is the point. I think. This photo wasn't taken for you. I had no intent when I took it to post it on social media or intend for you to muddle through a very long blog post. I took it for self-enjoyment. For my own individual needs, not the collective lot of you.
I don't take photos to share.
Nope, not me standing front of the Christmas tree at freaking Rockefeller Center on Christmas Night.
Nope, not me with a view of the entire skyline of Manhattan in the background.
Nope, you will not find me needing to post photos of myself on social media. And that photo in Pisa? A selfie stick would not have been helpful. I still needed another body. Or a camera with a timer on it.
Before selfies and their accouterments came into vogue, one might have to find a rock or chair to set the camera upon, set the timer, and run back to get in the frame. Or ask another to take the photo. Like a stranger. Bingo! The selfie stick negates the need to communicate with others. How cool is that?
My husband isn't good for the Selfie Stick empire. He might not have any patience for my stopping to take a snapshot, but he most certainly never hesitates to offer to take a photo of people trying to capture themselves.
Doesn't occur to him they might be in Selfie mode. Often when he offers, they give a guarded look and he calmly says, "Here, you can hold my phone while I take it." They smile and appease him and he starts to chat with them. "Where you from?" "What all are you doing today?" Hasn't said a word to me for an hour, but he's got all day to chat with strangers.
I stand idly by and sometimes they offer to take our photo as well. I reluctantly comply as I do need to leave some record that I existed and photos of us as a couple are indeed rare. But the question to pose is 'Would this photo of the old boy and me been better if we had taken it of ourselves?'
Probably not. Every Selfie I've ever taken of myself (something wrong with that phrase) I've deleted. Something about that double chin being much more defined in that close up.
It is nice, I admit, to have a memory of a time together. Like on this trip to Wyoming with Middle Son.
I still see the reflection of the mountain. The ripple in the water, the green of pine. But I also see a lovely smile on that young man's face. That it truly was okay to be stuck in the wilds with his mother. I can't recall the name of that mountain in the Tetons, but I do recall the joy of that moment. And perhaps that is what picture taking is all about and I need to give those people mugging all the photo stops a break. Myself included.
However, this photo could not possibly have captured that moment if I were concentrating on manoeuvring a long stick in front of me. Or if there were a crowd of people awaiting a photo in the exact same spot. And then not moving until I decided if it was good enough to post on my Facebook or needed to take another one because the water wasn't rippling just as I wanted it. Or I wanted to pull up my bra strap.
Something tells me I don't know what I'm talking about in this post. I had intended it to be a serious discussion regarding individualism. The pursuit of my needs before all others instead of living life for the collected good of all.
As you can sorely see, my Midlife Roadtripper blogpost mind does not allow me to stay serious for very long. Perhaps that is a good thing. Serious essays are very hard to write.
If I ventured back to my original idea of what this post might relay, I would come to this photo. With time running out at Metropolitan Museum (my husband ready to race me to the exit doors) I awaited yet another person in front of a painting so I could take my photo uninhibited. As I tapped my foot and studied the Monet from afar, I finally noticed she wasn't standing in front of it to take a photo of herself. She was doing what was meant to happen.
And that was the photo I wanted.
I've heard Selfie Sticks have now been banned from the Met and many other venues. I'm glad. Perhaps a 'return to sanity' sign.
After all, Marge didn't need a Selfie Stick. Didn't bother anybody. Didn't hold anyone up. For her, the fun was in the pursuit. Her photos aren't lolling about in cyber space or framed on her walls. Word has it they reside in an old box in the basement, unseen for years. In her mind's eye, I imagine Marge recalls. I can see her snickering.
*(An aside, I have a special affinity for Chi Chi Rodriquez. I recall the show WKRP in Cincinnati from years ago. Les Nesman, the news/weather/sports reporter, once reported on a golf tournament announcing Chi Chi as Chie Chie Rod-wa-gweez. Loved it then and it still makes me chuckle.)