The first time I tried taking a picture with a smartphone, I accidentally took a picture of myself. It happened because a smartphone looks nothing like what a camera should look like—at least not what cameras looked like in my day. In my day, there was no way a photographer could take a picture of himself without getting burned by flash powder.
The resulting accidental self-portrait was terrible—even worse than the mug shot on my driver’s license. First of all, there is the issue of lens axis. A low angle emphasizes the neck, the double chin and the nostrils. The eyes are half shut. If it’s a flash picture, the shadows angle upward, evoking Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula.
So along comes a device called a selfie stick, which enables a higher, more flattering camera angle. Also, one can cram more of oneself into the picture, and isn’t that what everyone wants nowadays? More of oneself?
Thanks to the selfie stick, you can place yourself next to any visiting celebrity. You can insert yourself into any group shot. You can become the foreground interest in every landscape. Wherever you go, you are front and center. What isn’t you is naught but background.
Call me old-fashioned, but I long for the days when photographers were not their own subject matter. No, we stayed out of sight, hunkered behind our cameras—in some cases our heads hidden beneath a dark cloth, like the Elephant Man. The camera’s ground glass was a window on the world, not a reflecting mirror. In theory, I suppose you COULD snap your own picture, as my colleague Mark Citret is attempting to do here. But you’d better be quick about it, and strong, because a Sinar 4×5 weighs a heck of a lot more than an iPhone.
So let’s be grateful that Ansel Adams didn’t attempt to insert himself into Yosemite National Park. Thank you, Dorothea Lange, for not posing alongside a migrant farm worker. And kudos to Joe Rosenthal, for not upstaging the Marines atop Mount Suribachi. By staying out of the picture, you’ve helped make America great. And–speaking of making America great–let’s pray to God that we don’t end up with a president so self-centered that whenever he speaks, he reflexively points to himself. A walking, talking selfie stick.