After a combination of circumstances and a good bit of cyber-frustration led me to purchase an iPad early in the course of my recent travels, a friend pointed out what she clearly assumed to be a side benefit. “Just think!” she chirped. “Now you can send us selfies while you travel!”
Having known me for years, she should have known — but clearly didn’t — that it hasn’t been the lack of a camera phone or its obnoxious accessories that’s excluded me from the ranks of selfie enthusiasts. I simply lack the inclination. The thought of photographing myself when there’s so much else of interest in the world to record seems faintly ridiculous.
I’ve held that opinion from the beginning of the craze. In May of 2015, during a conversation about vibrantly-colored clothing, Steve Schwartzman referenced an old story about the origin of Ghanaian kente cloth:
Legend has it that Kente was first made by two Akan friends who went hunting in an Asanteman forest and found a spider making its web. The friends stood and watched the spider for two days. Then, they returned home and implemented what they had seen.
I enjoyed the tale, which I hadn’t heard, but I couldn’t help offering a tongue-in-cheek version of my own:
Two hipsters went into the forest to take selfies to impress their friends. They never saw the spider making its web, because they were fixated on their smartphones. When they walked into the web, they tore it down, saying, “Totes gross!”
They looked around to see if they could find the spider, to take its photo, but after a minute they became bored. They returned home, and told people there was nothing to see in the forest.
Meanwhile, the spider returned, and spent two days rebuilding her resplendent, multi-colored web.
At the edge of the Fox Creek riparian corridor, I remembered that exchange, even as I smiled at the opportunity I’d been presented. Interested in tree shadows hovering over the fallen leaves that covered the water, I’d walked over to sit at the bank’s edge while I decided which view might be best. When my own shadow interjected itself into the scene, there was nothing to do but take the photo you see above: the first, and perhaps only, selfie of my life.
In time, a question occurred to me. If the world were to take selfies, what would they look like? How would our world choose to present its natural beauties, or the marks of our presence within it?
There never will be a firm or right answer to imagination’s questions, of course. Still, as I’ve sorted through my photos, I’ve found a few that seem particularly suited to serve as “selfies for the world.” All are attached to stories yet to be told, yet each stands perfectly well on its own, and each, in its own way, has become a shadow of a greater reality. I hope you enjoy them.