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Is the Narcissism of Photography Ruining Art? Human beings have rendered images of themselves in one form or another since the beginning of our species. The desire to try and capture the human essence in something that will outlast the physical body is universal; the need to encapsulate our understandings of “self” and “others” is found in every culture throughout the world. But have digital cameras, selfie sticks, iPhones, and Snapchat made such a pursuit so mind numbingly easy, that it has now completely lost it’s value? I love technology. I love how it brings people together, how it enables to connect, to create. I’m a gear-head, and I don’t think that will ever change, but in the last couple of years I have started to grow more cynical about the role of technology in art and in our everyday lives. Now, before a commenter accuses me of being some sort of grumpy curmudgeon, I’ll remind you that I am barely in my late 20’s (like, I’m turning 27 on Saturday). I’m not an old man sitting on my porch grumbling about “kids these days”. I just see some things in the world that bother me, maybe they bother you too. It all really started when my wife and I took a trip to Paris in the summer of 2014. Neither of us had ever been out of the country, let alone traveled overseas, and Paris had been a dream for years. I of course took my camera, even picking up a Fuji X-T1 kit so I didn’t have to lug my full size DSLR around, and took many photos on the trip. I’ll be honest though that I took far less than I had expected, I was too busy experiencing everything around me to stop and really nail some killer shots for my Instagram feed. I probably shouldn’t have been, but I found myself shocked at the immense number of people whose only goal seemed to be to grab a selfie of themselves with something famous. I understand that need in the general sense I suppose, families have always taken photos of themselves in front of monuments and historical sites, or other “big” things, but there was something about the way it happened in Paris that just got to me. These feelings really crystallized for me when we visited the Louvre. I remember stopping in front of the Venus de Milo and wanting to stop for a moment just to take her in, but barely being able to look for even a few seconds because of the flurry of selfie sticks and cell phones of people trying to take a picture with her. I did eventually manage to grab a photo of my own, timing it right as someone walked behind the statue so they were hidden, but the amount of effort it took to get it was pretty intense. A little while later we decided to try our luck at seeing the Mona Lisa, if you’ve ever tried to make it to the front of the crowd at a packed concert, then you know what that experience was like. Thousands of people pressing against each other, most of them wanting nothing more than to grab a selfie with a painting they probably knew nothing about and had spent no actual time looking at. Directly across from the Mona Lisa was a giant painting called “The Wedding at Cana”, it measures roughly 20 feet by 32 feet, and I would bet you the majority of the people who went in the room don’t even remember it, because they weren’t there for the art. Check out the photo below, you can see the reflection of all of us pressing around each other for the chance to take a photo with Mona. There’s a chance I’m coming across as hypocritical, criticizing people for taking selfies with art like I’m somehow better because I didn’t add myself to the image, but I think that’s a distinction worth noting. There was a time when a sketch or a painting were the only way to make a visual recording of something you saw. They required some level of effort to produce, they required actually looking at what was around you, taking it in, contemplating it on some level. Photography has removed that contemplation to varying degrees, first with mass consumer film cameras, followed later by digital, and now the camera that every person has on the phone in their pocket. The fact that it takes only a few seconds to take an image of something removes almost any need to think about what you are doing. It enables you to stand in front of one of the most famous sculptures in history and think something like “You know what would improve this? Me.” After we made it out of the hall with the Mona Lisa, we went upstairs to the actual galleries where the majority of the Louvre’s art collection is housed. The difference was astounding. The galleries were almost empty. We spent several hours there and saw maybe only 30 other people. There were true masterpieces hanging in these halls, works by famous artists that you would recognize if you were paying attention in history class, but they went mostly unseen. Despite how it might sound, this isn’t an article calling for a cessation of the selfie, or the end of Instagram, it’s an article about thinking. Do we think about what we do? Do we actually notice the things we see? Do we appreciate art as thing of beauty in and of itself, or do we view it only as a background for a self portrait? When I was shooting professional sports, people would always ask me how much fun I had at games, or talk about how jealous they were that I got to work on the sidelines. What I could never really get them to understand is that, when you’re working, the camera is a filter that removes most of the emotional context. I took photos of emotional moments that told great stories that I had minimal emotional connection to, because I was the one taking the picture. The camera always removes us from the moment to one degree or another. As photographers, we find ways to overcome that by utilizing the camera in the same way an artist uses a brush, but when you remove intention from the equation, all you’re left with is a photo of yourself with some art that you never really saw in the first place. Written by: Andrew Richardson ( Andrew is a professional photographer based in Houston, Texas). 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Is the Narcissism of Photography Ruining Art?

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2 years ago

Is the Narcissism of Photography Ruining Art?

Human beings have rendered images of themselves in one form or another since the beginning of our species. The desire to try and capture the human essence in something that will outlast the physical body is universal; the need to encapsulate our understandings of “self” and “others” is found in every culture throughout the world. But have digital cameras, selfie sticks, iPhones, and Snapchat made such a pursuit so mind numbingly easy, that it has now completely lost it’s value?

I love technology. I love how it brings people together, how it enables to connect, to create. I’m a gear-head, and I don’t think that will ever change, but in the last couple of years I have started to grow more cynical about the role of technology in art and in our everyday lives. Now, before a commenter accuses me of being some sort of grumpy curmudgeon, I’ll remind you that I am barely in my late 20’s (like, I’m turning 27 on Saturday). I’m not an old man sitting on my porch grumbling about “kids these days”. I just see some things in the world that bother me, maybe they bother you too.

It all really started when my wife and I took a trip to Paris in the summer of 2014. Neither of us had ever been out of the country, let alone traveled overseas, and Paris had been a dream for years. I of course took my camera, even picking up a Fuji X-T1 kit so I didn’t have to lug my full size DSLR around, and took many photos on the trip. I’ll be honest though that I took far less than I had expected, I was too busy experiencing everything around me to stop and really nail some killer shots for my Instagram feed.


I probably shouldn’t have been, but I found myself shocked at the immense number of people whose only goal seemed to be to grab a selfie of themselves with something famous. I understand that need in the general sense I suppose, families have always taken photos of themselves in front of monuments and historical sites, or other “big” things, but there was something about the way it happened in Paris that just got to me. These feelings really crystallized for me when we visited the Louvre. I remember stopping in front of the Venus de Milo and wanting to stop for a moment just to take her in, but barely being able to look for even a few seconds because of the flurry of selfie sticks and cell phones of people trying to take a picture with her. I did eventually manage to grab a photo of my own, timing it right as someone walked behind the statue so they were hidden, but the amount of effort it took to get it was pretty intense.


A little while later we decided to try our luck at seeing the Mona Lisa, if you’ve ever tried to make it to the front of the crowd at a packed concert, then you know what that experience was like. Thousands of people pressing against each other, most of them wanting nothing more than to grab a selfie with a painting they probably knew nothing about and had spent no actual time looking at. Directly across from the Mona Lisa was a giant painting called “The Wedding at Cana”, it measures roughly 20 feet by 32 feet, and I would bet you the majority of the people who went in the room don’t even remember it, because they weren’t there for the art. Check out the photo below, you can see the reflection of all of us pressing around each other for the chance to take a photo with Mona.


There’s a chance I’m coming across as hypocritical, criticizing people for taking selfies with art like I’m somehow better because I didn’t add myself to the image, but I think that’s a distinction worth noting. There was a time when a sketch or a painting were the only way to make a visual recording of something you saw. They required some level of effort to produce, they required actually looking at what was around you, taking it in, contemplating it on some level. Photography has removed that contemplation to varying degrees, first with mass consumer film cameras, followed later by digital, and now the camera that every person has on the phone in their pocket. The fact that it takes only a few seconds to take an image of something removes almost any need to think about what you are doing. It enables you to stand in front of one of the most famous sculptures in history and think something like “You know what would improve this? Me.”

After we made it out of the hall with the Mona Lisa, we went upstairs to the actual galleries where the majority of the Louvre’s art collection is housed. The difference was astounding. The galleries were almost empty. We spent several hours there and saw maybe only 30 other people. There were true masterpieces hanging in these halls, works by famous artists that you would recognize if you were paying attention in history class, but they went mostly unseen.

Despite how it might sound, this isn’t an article calling for a cessation of the selfie, or the end of Instagram, it’s an article about thinking. Do we think about what we do? Do we actually notice the things we see? Do we appreciate art as thing of beauty in and of itself, or do we view it only as a background for a self portrait?

When I was shooting professional sports, people would always ask me how much fun I had at games, or talk about how jealous they were that I got to work on the sidelines. What I could never really get them to understand is that, when you’re working, the camera is a filter that removes most of the emotional context. I took photos of emotional moments that told great stories that I had minimal emotional connection to, because I was the one taking the picture. The camera always removes us from the moment to one degree or another. As photographers, we find ways to overcome that by utilizing the camera in the same way an artist uses a brush, but when you remove intention from the equation, all you’re left with is a photo of yourself with some art that you never really saw in the first place.

Written by: Andrew Richardson ( Andrew is a professional photographer based in Houston, Texas)

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