Last year, I visited a Thai town called Kanchanaburi. It's home to the bridge on the River Kwai, made famous by the 1958 movie of the same name, which was based on the hardships endured by Allied prisoners during the Second World War.
During one of my daily crossings of this bridge, along with the thousands of other tourists, I noticed something; the vast majority were meandering along with a selfie stick taking pictures of themselves.
I can only presume that ownership of these sticks gives a person the right to disregard all others, based purely on the owner's inability to walk in a straight line, not dissimilar to a drunk walking home from the pub. Every 10 metres or so was a standing platform; an area where tourists could safely congregate if a train did happen to come whooshing past. Finding room here was just as challenging -- they were crammed full of even more selfie snappers. For the record, this isn't the recommended method of crossing an active railway bridge.
This got me thinking about the evolution of the dreaded selfie -- the ugly little cousin of actual photography.
Before the emergence of iPhones, selfies were merely a comedic tool, taken when you found a friend's camera foolishly unattended. You'd take a snap, usually out of focus with half your face missing, and return the camera to where it was. Your friend would develop these photos weeks, perhaps months, later and when they saw your little prank they would laugh, and laugh, and laugh. You see, selfies weren't something you wanted to waste a good photo on.
Things are slightly different in this day and age. There is a selfie for every occasion.
Watching a morning television report recently, I discovered there is such a thing as a 'divorce selfie' now. How this is newsworthy is another blog entirely, but, curiously, they exist. Apparently, they usually take place out the front of a court house, divorce papers in hand, with your ex-spouse by your side.
Then there are the selfies reserved for social media such as the look-at-me-aren't-I-beautiful selfie. Secondary school students and gym junkies are particularly fond of these. Pouting is mandatory and throwing in a peace sign is an optional extra.
A close second in the popularity stakes is the "Yep, I'm drunk again" selfie. This is mainly for memory recall and is dominant on weekends. In these photos, the more distorted your face is, the better. Having someone of the opposite sex in the picture is crucial -- it provides evidence for those friends who doubt your ability to seduce, well, anyone.
Travel selfies are also incredibly popular, but for completely different reasons. At every major attraction I've ever visited, I have watched people take picture after picture, straining for several minutes to get the perfect shot. One will be missing half a head, the next will be crooked and the next will be out of focus. Walking away, these people fail to realise that they are missing the actual landmark they came to visit.
"That's a lovely photo, dear," your grandmother will say. "But where are you?"
"Umm... that could be a Buddhist temple in Thailand, Gran. See, look, you can see the gold foot of a statue in the bottom corner. Or maybe it's a market? Actually, I'm not sure."
When travelling alone though, sometimes you have no other option. Desperate times call for desperate measures. I once tried to snap a quick picture of myself in front of a raised tower bridge with a boat passing underneath. The end result was a close-up photo of my head, with no bridge or boat in sight.
Scarily, ground-breaking journalism informs me that more people have died taking selfies than have been killed by sharks. (I am unaware of the stats on people being killed by sharks while taking selfies, but that would make a great news story.) For the record, more people die in car crashes, aeroplane disasters, elephant attacks and being hit by falling coconuts than by sharks. People are clearly more willing to die taking a photo of themselves than appreciating the views around them, all for the sake of the perfect selfie -- a photo that will look good on a picture board at a birthday or as a social media bragging point and not much else.
Don't get me wrong, selfies have a place in the photography world. They are purportedly simple. They can show mood and capture moments you are revelling in. Whether that is happy, sad or indifferent does not matter. They are a form of self-expression and I appreciate that. Just don't be afraid to take a normal photo in the meantime.Suggest a correction