in the 90’s we didn’t have smart phones, and the word “selfies” did not exist, having a camera was a deliberate choice. I bought my first Nikon FM with the first money I earned from a part time job after school. I was a teen ager, and I was fascinated about recording life as it unfolded around me. Everything was on 35mm film, there was no photoshop, all was done either in the dark room, by some 1 hour photo lab or, in my case shipped to Switzerland for processing (I loved the kodakchrome slides quality). There wasn’t much control over the post processing. There was no LCD screen to check how the shot came out, there was no facebook or instagram to publish your work. It seems impossible today to think it was actually possible to take any decent picture at all. But it was never about the pictures, It was always about the story.
I always wanted to capture the reality of life, with its antagonising balance between right and wrong. I wanted to have a camera with me at all times and wished to be invisible, to be able to capture every critical moment without interference. I wanted to be Like a fly able to see everything while remaining unnoticed.
It was interesting to experience how things changed when I became a soldier. From the moment I boarded the back of the open troops truck in Merano, a cold day in December, I became nothing more than an expendable resource. One of many, I was given a uniform, I was embedded in a specific set of routines, I was directed to follow orders. The funny thing was that I volunteered for it. I did learned a lot about humanity then, its fragility and its ambiguities.
During my time in the Army the camera turned its lenses, taking pictures of the group, myself included, was at the same time part of respecting the sense of belonging to the brotherhood and reminding myself who I was. Reminding myself that beyond the orders, beyond the uniform, beyond the routines, I could think for myself, I could never stop being who I was. Taking picture of myself in a specific context, recording meaningful activities with my comerades, was an opportunity to track my own evolution so that I could keep hold of my own self. It didn’t always work.
The Human Mind
Of course we always change with or without a military experience. Yet to be enfolded so quickly and swiftly into the military machine was somewhat terrifying, and it took all of my inner strength to remain somewhat conscious of my own beliefs.
At that time I didn’t know about Milgram experiments on Obedience or the Zimbardo Stanford prison experiment, I wasn’t prepared to understand what was taking place during those induction days and later during my formal service as an Officer in the Army. I doubt that much would have changed even if I was.
Today between selfies, videos, jokes and other snippets of life mingled on Facebook, there are picture of war in Syria, of ISIS atrocities, and many other terrifying, angering and sad events showing us what the human mind is capable of. Every time I see those posts I cringe, I get angry, I keep thinking about what should I do about it. Then I remember that we are all capable of such atrocities given the circumstances, without realising it we are all capable of making poor decisions in our every day life, even if they don’t include atrocities.
Every day we are subject to the the same pressures and conditioning from society, work places, marketing and many other sources. Every day we can fall victims of conforming to behaviours that seems innocuous but yet cause us to fall into place and follow the herd without fully understanding the implications. No matter how much we try to level the playing field of life, being oneself is, and always will be, a difficoult individual choice. Every moment of every day, in any relationship we have a choice to say what we think, to act congruently with our beliefs and to recognise that, given the chance, everyone else can do the same.
I cannot do much about what happens in the world in places far away from here, but I can exercise my own choice in what I do every day, I can choose my own behaviour and hope to inspire the people around me in doing the same.
Selfies today are something we do as a matter of everyday life, but I cannot stop to think that this pervasive need to take a picture of oneself might be a symptom of a society loosing its own identity, belief and ability to exercise independent thinking. We must remember that we all are much better than that
“We can lift ourselves out of ignorance, we can find ourselves as creatures of excellence and intelligence and skills. We can be free! We can learn to fly!”
– R. Bach ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’ –