Most of my photo essays are about serious topics, particularly having to do in some way with social justice. But from time to time I want to tell a story that’s just about fun- something to make us laugh. This story is pure fun.
My wife Tobi and I went to Venice in September 2017. Everyone knows what Venice is about: canals and gondolas. But until you actually see Venice, you really have no idea. Venice is a feast for the eyes. It’s jam-packed with very old brightly colored buildings and with water everywhere. One can’t help wondering how this place was ever built. It’s a fairyland where daily life is so different from what most people experience- not a car in sight. I found it almost impossible to fill my eyes with the sights of this place. I never want the memory to fade.
So, what do you do in Venice: explore, get lost, and eat. I've never seen so many restaurants. Pizza is king and we were his loyal subjects!
The other thing people do in Venice is take pictures, and of course I was no exception. However, the last thing I wanted to do was just take typical pictures of Venice. Like always, I wanted to find the-story-within-the-story. It took half of our six days to find it, but suddenly there it was: Venezia is full of B.S.
Venice is a confluence of two forces. The first is romance, and there is plenty of it. Venice is an island carved up by canals. The Grand Canal is the mighty backbone of the island swirling its way from one side to the other. Then there are the minor canals which cover the city like a dense patchwork of veins. More than 400 bridges cross the canals of Venice. You can’t walk very far without encountering a bridge.
While the romance of Venice is everywhere you look, it reaches its peak on the bridges. As you cross a bridge there is an intense need to look in both directions on the canal. This is where the beauty of Venice is the strongest. It’s most intense on the four major bridges over the Grand Canal because of the broad vistas, lights and boat traffic. But the small bridges offer a significant pull as well because they provide a look into the neighborhoods- and all the laundry hanging out.
The second force is the need for visitors to capture the beauty and to do it with themselves included. There is nothing that brings out the “selfie reflex” like Venice bridges. On just about every bridge and at just about any time, someone is taking a selfie. And that's the-story-within-the-story: Venezia is full of B.S.- “Bridge Selfies”, that is! (Now aren’t you ashamed for thinking I meant something off-color?? 😀)
So I spent considerable time on the bridges taking pictures of selfies in action. It was fascinating to see how focused people get when taking a selfie. Everyone else disappears including people like me taking pictures of them. For some it’s just a quick snap and move on, while for others it’s a project to get the exact image.
This photo essay is a whimsical look at people in the act of creating Venezia B.S. Any relationship between this story and anything serious is pure coincidence. I hope you enjoy it!
Selfies can be categorized in a number of ways. For purpose of this story, there are six types:
- Double Selfies- Hand Held
- Single Selfies- Hand Held
- Group Selfies- Hand Held
- Double Selfies- With Stick
- Single Selfies- With Stick
- Group Selfies- With Stick
Every selfie is different. Each deserves its own name and I’m happy to oblige.
Double Selfies- Hand Held
This is by far the most common selfie- lovers and friends making a memory. It’s characterized by the two people getting close together, usually in some level of embrace with broad, though sometimes forced, smiles- though sometimes there are no smiles at all. One member of the couple takes the phone, extends the ubiquitous “selfie arm” and snaps the picture. In its simplest form there is a quick review of the image and they move on. I wonder how it’s determined who takes the phone: is it the more dominant member of the couple, the one who considers themselves a photographer, or is it just random? There’s probably a PhD in psychology for answering this question: “Selfie Dominance- A 21st Century Societal Construct.” (OK, a little overboard.)
The “Picture Postcard” Selfie: With their good looks, perfect smiles, and just the right touch, they are the epitome of the Double Selfie. It’s easy, no stress and they only needed one shot. This would be a perfect poster for a travel agent’s office, or an ad for the iPhone.
The “Let’s Keep It Serious” Selfie: In this variation the two people embrace but show little outward emotion. (Selfies take a lot of concentration so my presence was never detected, except by an occasional passerby.)
The “Three Handed” Selfie: In order to improve stability, some couples employ a maneuver where one arm is used to clamp the two people together, while the other three arms are used to control the phone. Severe scratches have been reported when three thumbs go for the shutter at the same time. (Yes, selfies are complex.)
The “I’ll Smile Even If You Won’t” Selfie: Sometimes only one member is willing to get into the moment.
The “OK I’ll Smile Too But Just A Little” Selfie: This usually happens when the guy is finally given control of the phone. (There’s nothing better than selfies taken as the sun is going down.)
The “It’s never Too Early To Learn” Selfie: Responsible parents get their children off to an early start. But this little doll didn't seem to be paying attention.
The “Teamwork” Selfie: Experienced selfie couples realize the power of working together. One member, usually the tallest, holds the phone while the other presses the button.
The “Honey Please Hold My Purse” Selfie: He provided the support she needed for getting the perfect selfie, and isn’t that what life is all about?
The “Stair” Selfie: Taking selfies on uneven surfaces can be dangerous and requires complete trust between members. Smiling through such a stressful moment takes mental strength. The two people at the lower level were unaware of their peril as the phone could have become a projectile at any moment.
The “Wow Are We Gorgeous Or What” Selfie: The most popular Double Selfie of all.
The “Emily Post” Selfie: Holding the fingers in just the right way is not only sophisticated, but it also keeps fingers out of the image. Finger infringement is estimated to impact 39.8% of all selfies world-wide; 42.6% in the U.S.
The “Is That Really Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway” Selfie: The would-be paparazzi on the left seemed to think so. The couple on the right (see previous) got a laugh from their selfie.
The “I'm Sure Glad We Dumped Those Guys” Selfie: Every declaration of independence should be preserved with a selfie. (Could you imagine a selfie with Thomas Jefferson and the rest of the independence gang?)
The “I'm Too Busy With My Cell Phone For A Selfie” Selfie: Sometimes independence shows up very close to home.
The “Umbrella” Selfie: Inclement weather is no match for the selfie.
The “Poncho” Selfie: Ditto.
The “Maybe I Will and Maybe I Won't” Selfie: Selfies are not without their emotional moments. (Her blouse says it all: “Be Your Own Muse”)
The “Boo-Hoo” Selfie: They look like theatrical comedy-tragedy masks. This totally fits as Venice is the city of masks.
The “You Take The Selfie While I Blow In Your Ear” Selfie: Romance is at the core of many selfies.
The “We’ll Keep At It Till We Get It Right” Selfie: This couple just kept trying.
And trying!!! (Is that another Boo-Hoo? Maybe it’s catchy.)
Finally success… She’s Happy!!
The “Creating A Romantic Moment” Selfie: Take One- He desperately wanted to impress her with his selfie skills.
It’s ok but he needed to up the ante.
The “Creating A Romantic Moment” Selfie: Take Two- Can he get the shot while looking into her eyes? A very risky move- what if he just gets the tip of her nose?
Not perfect so he asked for just one more shot.
She took the phone saying: “I’m selfied-out, let’s get pizza.”
Single Selfies- Hand Held
While much less prevalent than Double Selfies, there were examples of the Single Selfie. It does seem kind of sad however to be alone in such a romantic place.
The “I Hope These $400 Sunglasses Look Good” Selfie: This is going straight to Facebook and Instagram.
The “Hope I Don't Get Crushed” Selfie: Selfie injuries are very common on the 500-year-old stone Rialto Bridge.
The “Sunglasses Reflection” Selfie: Can he really see through those things?
The “Statuesque” Selfie: If Rodin were here he would be getting out the hammer and chisel.
The “Match.com” Selfie: A perfect opportunity for that perfect on-line photo.
The “Sad” Selfie: It’s hard to know for sure, but she looks lonely compared to the lovers just below.
Group Selfies- Hand Held
When groups travel together there are sure to be Group Selfies. It does however create a challenge to crowd more than two people into a selfie. In fact, that’s why Apple introduced the iPhone Plus, aka Group Selfie Shooter.
The “I Think Your Arm Is In My Face” Selfie: There’s no way all four will make this selfie.
The “Tickle” Selfie: The well known method for keeping the selfie arm properly raised.
The “Do You Know Who These Two People Are” Selfie: Selfie interloping has become a ruse for pickpocketing in many European countries.
The “Competitive” Selfie: Three shooters took their best shot- this is serious selfie business.
“Mine’s Better”… “No, Mine’s Better”… “No Way, Mine’s Better”. They argued for ten minutes to decide who was going to buy the ice cream. That’s because at the base of this bridge is a Magnum Pleasure Store where you create a customized Magnum ice cream bar. You choose between vanilla or chocolate ice cream, three chocolate dips and 21 different toppings, even including culinary rose petals. It’s amazing!… It wouldn't surprise me to see development of the “Selfie Duel”: 10 paces, turn and shoot!
Double, Single and Group Selfies- With A Stick
While hand held selfies are by far the most common, selfie sticks are gaining in popularity- and with good reason. The International Association of Orthopedic Surgeons issued a report saying that the use of selfie sticks has reduced the dreaded “Selfie Arm Syndrome” by 90%… In Venice, vendors sell selfie sticks on the main bridges.
The “How In The World Do You Work This Thing” Selfie: Technology is great but it can be a bit daunting.
The “Squeeze That Little Thingy So My Phone Doesn't Fall Off” Selfie: Once a phone falls on the Rialto Bridge, it’s gone forever.
The “Once You Get The Hang Of It, It’s A Beautiful Thing” Selfie: No Selfie Arm Syndrome for this shooter.
The “Sunglasses On The Far Head Don’t Prevent Squinty-Eyes” Selfie: The golden hour sun was so beautiful at that moment.
The “Hold The Selfie Stick Like A Baseball Bat” Selfie: An added feature of this setup is mugger deterrence.
The “Bifocal” Selfie: This is when you have to look up in order to look down. I have the same problem and it made walking across these bridges quite dangerous.
The “I’m Not Going To Play This Silly Game” Selfie: Sometimes people are just not in the mood.
The “OK-OK If You Insist” Selfie: Get this over fast.
The “We Look Pretty Good After All” Selfie: All's well that ends well.
The “I Hope You're Not Going To Jam That Umbrella Into My Foot” Selfie: Yes selfies can be dangerous.
The Ambulanza responding to a selfie incident no doubt.
And finally, The “Tobi & Ted” Selfie: We had to get into the act as well. Enough of this, let’s get gelato!! (This bridge is just around the corner from the Jewish Ghetto, a very emotional place.)
I hope you had a few laughs from this bit of whimsey about selfies.
People have always wanted their pictures taken on trips, in special places, and with family. Now with the phone, people are totally in control of the process- selfies are part of the culture all around the world. It was really quite fascinating to watch people in the act. I wish I had had more time to really understand the selfie culture.
But there’s another side to this that I surely don't understand. I first became aware of selfies when doing the photo essay “Ground Zero Contradiction” in 2014. I was amazed to see people doing selfies in front of the 9/11 Memorial pools, the site of unspeakable horror and loss of life. I have no explanation for it, I just wonder.
If you have any comments, please go to the contact tab. I will add anonymous comments at the end of the photo essay.
Thanks for reading! And if you ever have the chance, go to Venice and make your own Venezia B.S.!!
Published September 18, 2017
Published September 18, 2017