Careful with that *Selfie* Eugene..

One of my personal criteria’s for what makes a great film often a work of art is one in which, upon your return to it at different stages of your life, you continue to glean more understanding from it than from prior viewings. This happened today for me with Guy Maddin’s 1992 psychotronic film, “Careful”.

Personally coming from an earlier time in higher education to what is now mostly deemed as a ‘practice-based’ background in the arts, (the American art institute I went to imparted the broader theories of primarily Marxism, semiotics and existentialism as well as the ‘art theories’ as conceptual launch pads for us) now finding myself back in higher education again nearly 30 years later, I  have been desperately trying to ingest the European way and attempting to gain some semblance of PhD rigour with my understanding of poststructuralism. I am beginning to have my own personal Henry Higgins/Elisa Dolittle moment of, ‘By George, I think she’s got it!’! (There is much more for me to understand of course, but since I enjoy learning, I anticipate a continued expansion in my knowledge on poststructuralism and other philosophies and theories for the rest of my life).

However, for now, I was chatting with my Husband, Brian about what I have synthesised so far about poststructuralism, (one of the lenses my PhD research uses), as it relates to my PhD project on selfies. This blog post/rant was prompted by articles that Brian randomly sends me from popular media from time to time that usually expresses, ( in my view), very extreme moral panics of the potential dangers of creating selfies.

The media warnings usually state things such as Selfies can cause diseases from head lice (I guess from people with head lice putting their heads together during selfie shots??) to claims of causing mental illnesses or being an indicator of murderous psychopathic tendencies.The latest one put out today was titled, ‘ When Selfies Go Wrong: 17 Deadly Selfies’. ( The link is dubious, so I have omitted it, but search for yourself).

When I opened it I saw very quickly that it contained manipulated images of supposed death and harm caused by selfies (or photographic images that I staunchly do not classify as selfies). For example, one claimed a shark attacked a young man on his honeymoon no less..(oh sob!)..while “foolishly snapping a selfie”.

…What a fool, he should have never taken a selfie or he would be alive!

Wait, he is alive, as the picture is a hoax and it took me all of a few seconds in TinEye to find the corresponding two images that photoshopped together.



So, why would popular media put out such constant stream of extreme warnings about selfie production, ( and really the use of all technology)?

Ah, we’re getting to the ‘poststructuralism’ part, finally…..

The quick answer is, maintaining power.

Its an unfortunate time-honoured way by the powerful in a society of maintaining the order and control. ‘Let’s tell them it is vain, girly stuff, (cause girl stuff is bad and weak).. it’s narcissistic, tell them it could even kill them! Come on, listen to us, we (popular media ) only have your best interest in mind!

There are probably many reasons I have not thought of so far to propagandise people away from using their cameras as tools that potentially deviate their representations from what is currently deemed societally and socially acceptable forms bodily representation, but two immediately come to mind.

  1. First, to prevent citizen journalism. Look at the power people have literally in their hands to capture any unfair treatment they may randomly come across.  That must be stopped to maintain the power structures in place.
  2. And secondly but no less important is gender and race constructs and how those roles are expected to behave.

Woman and Men must behave and present themselves in the gender tropes the power structure has created for them. If people begin to define their own alternative, less confining image of themselves, ( which happens through regular explorations of self-imaging one’s self), the power and order could lose control of them being good little unquestioning citizens that buy and produce the gendered things that keep the powers wealthy and in control.

This method keeps sections of humanity oppressed when deemed abnormal or less important. It becomes unconsciously accepted that people who fall into certain societal constructs,  don’t need equal rights, or equal pay, etc. It’s perceived as ‘biological determinism’ or ‘abnormal’ and we are trained to view it this way. Again, I feel, so the power (often corporations that have huge political power as well) can enjoy more for themselves and not have to deal with nasty uprisings and protests.

An unfortunate growing trend in journalism is for ‘journalists’ to take the corporate line when presenting information to the masses.  Journalists feel it is in their best interest put out only the information sanctioned by the corporate powers that control the news companies they work for to in order to keep their jobs.

The steady stream of mass media moral panics of the supposed deleterious outcomes of selfie production ( and another tech-related behaviour that is fear mongered currently), reminded me of the prologue from Guy Maddin’s brilliant 1992 psychotronic film,  ‘ Careful’. It is a Canadian film about a fictitious small Swiss-like Village of Tolzbad and the ‘omnipresent danger of constant avalanches’ and the ‘power’ of that town’s  repeated attempts of issuing a message to it citizens, for the absolute necessity to keep emotions and sound suppressed at all times for fear of causing devastation to the structure of their village and also self. Shot intentionally like a movie from the silent film era, I feel it brilliantly shows through dark humour how the constant messages broadcast from the governing power, instructing how one needs to conduct themselves in order to live their lives safely and prudently. It illustrates very well how this suppression and agreed or unconscious repression ultimately effects the citizens very gravely.

I watched just the first five minutes of the prologue again today and I felt it illustrated many poststructuralist ideas of the symbolic order and power structures we come to believe to be the only way life can be. I recommend viewing the entire film of course, but hopefully, this rambling post and 5-minute clip below might encourage those who have not seen the film to see the entire film. It just gets better with every viewing.



I  realise these are pretty broad sweeping statements, unusual connections and a ‘food for thought’, sort of rant. I am also well aware that there is a very dark side to selfies and also to other technology. (Nuclear bombs and war technology for one).  But staying with the technology of the internet, I can see is prudent and very vital to have a balanced approach towards all technology, including the devices we have so ubiquitously allowed in our lives, in order to prevent loss of our civil liberties, surveillance and data mining our personal lives.

I just observe that often, it’s the moral panic message that is being put out there, constantly fear mongering people into submission with ‘the civilising process’ and fear instead of informing with reason.   Instead of propagandising  the masses into compliance with ‘the civilised process-like’ tropes and moral panics regarding technology, I like to think about what would happen if stories of the devastating environmental damage done by greedy capitalist practices, modern slavery and the predatory political neoliberalism our 1% oligarchs participate in, were covered honestly and rationally in the media? I suspect there would be a mass uprising, where people would grab their metaphorical or real ‘pitchforks’ and demand a change. Perhaps we have to start by demanding a change in the messages being spoon fed to us.

The reality is that many technologies we think of as seamless or ubiquitous aspects of everyday life, such as transportation, architecture, farming, text, language and fire, were not absent of moral panics, the civilising process, political controversies, and power motivations of some sort or another when they were first introduced. We obliviously forget that we are a species of animal, (a higher primate within the ape family), that naturally invents, creates and adapts to ‘technology’ we construct and devise.  This is our natural state from the beginning. To use tools to create and invent things that assist us in some ways. Yes, great monstrosities have been devised by our species. But to pretend we are otherwise, that we are some other type of simple benign creatures that have sinned by creating technology, to suppress the natural tendencies that we evolved from, I feel will be as harmful to our ‘being’ and the society we live in as it was for the fictional people of Tolzbad in the film ‘Careful’.

P.S. More random stuff…The title of this post is inspired by the song, “Careful with that Axe, Eugene”, by Pink Floyd. Being someone born back in stone age, I realise not everyone would “get that”, har har…

Ways of Seeing: Direct to Audience


Whether through digital channels, print or on exhibit, the impact, influence and reach of the still image has never been greater. But with so many images fighting for our attention, how do photographers make work that most effectively stands out and connects with an audience. In this seven-part series, TIME looks back over the past 12 months to identify some of the ways of seeing—whether conceptually, aesthetically or through dissemination—that have grabbed our attention and been influential in maintaining photography’s relevance in an ever shifting environment, media landscape, and culture now ruled by images.

Direct to Audience

2014 saw an increase in independent photographers cutting out the middle man and going direct to audience. Facebook, Twitter and particularly Instagram have been instrumental in building online communities and growing audiences for photographers for some time. But this year saw the monetization of these platforms through various print sale initiatives by photo…

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A Serious Comedian: Honoré Daumier’s Critique of Photography and Modern Society

the politics of information

The caption beneath this 1862 lithograph by French caricature artist Honoré Daumier reads “Nadar elevating Photography to the height of Art.” The print comically typecasts Gaspard-Félix Tournachon (known as Nadar) as a mad scientist or absent-minded professor figure who—in his excitement to capture the perfect shot—is unwittingly about to lose his top hat. Below him, inscribed on every building in Paris, is the word “Photographie.” In many ways, this satirical depiction of one of the most prominent photographers in Paris works to capture the essence of the 19th century debate over whether or not this new medium of photography could be considered “art.” At the time this print appeared in the journal Le Boulevard, Nadar was already well known for taking the first aerial photograph of Paris four years earlier in 1858. He likewise “had a flair for showmanship, and was much in the public eye as a balloonist”…

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Selfie Bingo!

The Carceral Net

There was a talk about selfies at the National Portrait Gallery in London a few weeks ago (, and when I was there I talked to Annebella Pollen who was chairing the session. As we were talking, anticipating the evening to come, I mentioned the fact that the same recurring themes seem to come up in discussions about the selfie. The predictability of some of these themes – ‘selfies are not photography’, ‘there are too many selfies’, and so on – interests me, as it demonstrates just how restricted the way of talking about this practice had often become. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, it’s not so much the photographs themselves, or what we even say about them, that I find important – it’s the social structures that support and are supported by such statements.

As a whimsical reaction to this, I have made a bingo card of (mostly…

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Research of Mobile Photography

mobile photography

mobile photography (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

My current postgraduate research focuses on how programmed nostalgia (retro/vintage pre-sets) within mobile phone photography provides memory illusions that facilitate the construction of our sense of self. I suggest that  a “new aesthetic” nostalgia presents visual and social cues that allow us to construct and rapidly re-construct memory illusions of our sense of self.

In one sense this is nothing all that new.  Amateur photography has long provided the means for memory and self-representation built off social and cultural interconnections and activities within domestic life.  Susan Sontag wrote in, On Photography, that “amateur photography has brought with it the emergence of a new visual code, which has forever augmented the Western world’s idea of realism, memory and identity of both the viewer and the photographer”.

Mobile phone photography continues with this heritage bringing with it specific mediated affordances that justify reopening and contributing to the already rich body of research on this subject. Through our devices, mobile phone photography not only becomes part of what creates our autobiographical memories, but a mediated tool that caters to our basic psychological requirement for identity construction and transformation.

This is what I will explore, the how and the why mobile photography does this. This new blog will comprise of my journey through my research. I will use writing in this blog to help clarify my ideas and observations, because of this, it may be full of conjecture and whimsy much more than the content of my academic papers.