Monday, 3 April 2017




There are a number of reasons as to why we enjoy taking selfies: are we narcissistic? Is this a new way to show that we love our bodies and are not afraid to show it? Or, are we buying into a celebrity culture where we photograph and edit (x5) photos of ourselves?

How could we possibly see an object behind all of these people?! Source
The reasons, of course, differ for every selfie-er. But selfie culture becomes even more complicated in the space of museums and memorials (I'm using the term 'selfie' here very loosely to also include photos taken of just you in the space).

What made me think of this topic are my own experiences when visiting museums and memorial sites. I usually have no problem indulging in selfie culture or having my photo taken beside a particular object or within a certain space. Sooner or later, though, I come across spaces where I question the appropriateness of taking a photo: should I even be in this photo?

To selfie or not to selfie? Source.
On the one hand, selfie culture has become part of museum culture. Selfies can be used to create an educational and creative experience. The "Pointilize Yourself" application in the Indianapolis Museum of Art, for example, turns visitors' digital self-portrait into a Neo-Impressionist style painting. The museum world has even dedicated a day to selfies in museums (FYI: the next one is January 17, 2018. Follow @MuseumSelfieDay).

A before & after example of the Pointilize Yourself app. Source.

On the other hand, as I visit memorials and museums that are representative of sensitive and difficult histories, photographs are taken of others, and me, quite awkwardly. As a tourist, it is only natural that we would want a photograph taken of us at the places we are visiting: we want "proof" that we actually visited said place, photographs to share with family and on social media, and photographs to decorate our homes.

However, when do we draw the line? There is photographic evidence of me at the U.S.S Arizona Memorial (the site of Pearl Harbor) posing very oddly, with the "smiling-but-not-smiling-I respect this space and history-but I still want a photo" pose. Many of us might feel more comfortable being photographed alongside pre-20th century memorials, which in the time might have been our WWII or Pearl Harbor. Is there an "appropriate" time limit that must pass which allows us to take self-portraits and not be criticized?

Taking photographs for the sake of taking photographs is one thing. But, disrespecting memorials through selfies seems to be an increasingly disturbing trend. Satirical author Shahak Shapira created the project "Yolocaust" to tackle this very subject. Shapira uses self-portrait images of visitors at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin and superimposes them onto images of extermination camps. His message is clear: to show how peoples' behaviour appears ignorant and disrespectful towards such a sacred space.

A similar situation is occurring at the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial and museum. While the site imposes restrictions on where you can and cannot take photographs, visitors tend to still photograph themselves as if they were in front of the Eiffel Tower. As the images for both examples are quite alarming, I did not include them in this blog, but you can read more about it, as well as see the images on the following links: and

While such images show a clear misunderstanding of the significance to humanity that these spaces possess, what if on March 27, 2117 and henceforth, taking these photos will become as natural as taking selfies at the Roman Coliseum? Who and where are the 'selfie culture police'? In fact, a Tumblr account has become a sort of vigilante in this department, addressing and exposing "selfies at serious places":

Perhaps peoples' behaviour at certain sites may be indicative of, but not excusable by, a discomfort or even confusion about the trend of minimalism to create memorials of difficult moments throughout history. In addition to the memorial in Berlin, sites such as the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C. follows what Adam Gopnik calls the "sublime simplicity" (Gopnik 2014). Often times these moments are difficult to convey through words, nonetheless a physical structure. It seems that minimalism and more 'eccentric' and contemporary aesthetics appropriately matches this difficulty and our lack of consensus on how to effectively portray the past. Yet, is the lack of a transparent structure and meaning contributing to a lack of respect?

As we visit popular cities and sites, whether a memorial or a museum, we must consider and reevaluate our behaviour and the message we are transmitting through our tech-savvy actions.

Sources consulted:

Gopnik, Adam. (2014, July 7). Stones and bones. The New Yorker.

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