Everyone has their own idea of what makes a good selfie. I like the ones that metamorphose into what might be called selfies-plus—pictures that begin to speak in unintended tongues, that carry surpluses of meaning that the maker may not have known were there. Barthes wrote that such images produce what he called “a third meaning,” which passes “from language to significance.” I’m not talking about cute contradictions, unintended parody, nip slips, moose knuckles. Everyone’s subject to these unveilings. No, I’m talking about more unstable, obstinate meanings that come to the fore: fictions, paranoia, fantasies, voyeurism, exhibitionism, confessions—things that take us to a place where we become the author of another story. That’s thrilling. And something like art. 5: Quirke at Auschwitz: Barthesian selfie. Take, for example, a photo posted last July by John Quirke  . The picture itself is nothing; a strapping twentysomething, shot from below in what looks like a basement. His mouth is agape, his eyes wide open. He wears headphones. The impact of the picture comes in Quirke’s tag: “Selfie from the gas chamber in Auschwitz.” The picture exceeds itself, vaults outside meaning, becoming what Barthes described as “locatable but not describable.” Image and text merge in ways that add more oomph. There are similar pictures of people at Chernobyl, in front of car wrecks, with a suicide taking place over one’s shoulder. Another selfie is captioned “The photos are of me at Treblinka …” 4/9
We can’t merely dismiss these as violations of sanctified spaces or lapses of judgment. Atget photographed crime scenes. War correspondents catch images of people being blown to bits. Many of us have taken pictures of homeless people, Dealey Plaza in Dallas, an electric chair, the hole left by the World Trade Center. I photographed the second tower falling. The new twist of the selfie is that we’re in these pictures. (I didn’t include myself in that one.) Many are in bad taste, and some indulge in shock value for shock value’s sake, but they are, nevertheless, reactions to death, fear, confusion, terror, annihilation. 6: Don West: chilling. They can, at times, evince our need to unsee things. On the pickup site Grindr, people use as their avatars selfies taken in Berlin’s Holocaust memorial. Captions include “Aussie on holidays :-) Lets [ sic ] have some fun” and “How many times did you jerk off.” We know our sex drives are with us always, but so is something just as archaic: taboo. After making an idiotic knock-knock joke in court, George Zimmerman’s defense lawyer, Don West, took a selfie in a car with his daughters eating ice-cream cones  . The chilling caption is by his daughter Molly: “We beat stupidity celebration cones,” followed by emoticons of a ringing bell, a grinning face, and the hashtag “#dadkilledit.” The world grows dark before our eyes in selfies like these.
- Spring '14
- Universal quantification, Existential quantification, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror