Come At Me: I Don’t Hate Those Travel Selfies.
My sweet ones! What started as a per usual list o’ links turned into a long and winding paragraph rant, and you know what, I’m just going to go with it, ok?
I prepare myself for your contrarian responses, but look, I’m with Taylor Lorenz on this unpopular opinion: There’s Nothing Wrong With Posing for Photos at Chernobyl. This piece is in response to the international negative reaction to visitors of the Exclusion Zone in Ukraine posting photos of themselves in front of the disaster porn of the area (which is NOT NEW, btw, I edited the travel blog at NileGuide, and we were covering this back in 2010.) And while the rest of the web howls about the disrespect of the younger generation, and HOW DARE WE take photos in front of such a tragic place, Lorenz argues that since selfies are the way we mark and measure time and experience now. She argues that shaming those normal (read: non-“influencers”) travelers who share a picture of them in a horrible place with a caption detailing the emotions they are experiencing is counter-productive and rude.
Because, as she writes, this isn’t a new thing: we’ve all taken photos of ourselves in front of spots of historical horror, we’re just now at that point in technology where said photos can whip around the world in seconds.
Regarding selfies at historical sites, case in point: back in 2005 while researching my thesis in Berlin, I visited the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, which has just opened that year. I had my DSLR with me (this is back before iPhones when Portrait Mode was a service I sold to my actor friends for extra $$$) and I took shots of the rolling lines of pillars designed to “represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason.” At one point, I flipped around my Canon and held the heavy camera at arms length, snapping a photo of the upper right quadrant of my face with the undulating memorial behind me.
It marks that I was there, and it’s a special photo to me. Does it mean I was making the experience about myself? Uh, yea, because that’s what we do when we visit memorials like this, we try (hopefully) to put ourselves in a mindset that helps us understand the feeling the memorial is trying to convey. Now, did I take a similar photo when I visited the Sachsenhausen concentration camp a few days later? No. And when I took my photo at the Memorial, did I pose half-nude like one of the visitors at Chernobyl did? Sorry folks, no. So obviously there are limits to my personal desire to capture self-involvement at memorials, and I firmly believe that visitors to places of tragedy should be educated on recognizing and respecting these sombre places.
But do I think it’s OK for a journalist at an internationally-read publication to lazily plop a coordinate into a geo-tag search on instagram and virally shame “normal” people (read: those with few followers and no indication they’re interested in expanding their personal #brand) who took and posted a photo of their trip to Eastern Europe? No, no I do not, because I’m not hauling butt to your grandfather’s basement and shaming him for the slides he used to show you of him flipping the bird at Checkpoint Charlie. And if we’re going to shame people for posing for photos at places of pain and anguish in 2019, we should probably start policing selfies at the Tower of London, the Colosseum in Rome, and the myriad of pretty plantations in the south (note: no, please don’t start policing those geotags. Take that righteous anger and translate it into a cash donation to the Southern Poverty Law Center, mmmkay?)
Wow. I guess this became a missive on 2019 guiding ethics of travel self-photography? Idk! Anyhoo, be kind to yourselves.