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The selfie stick has become a ubiquitous symbol of tourism, and to some is equally indicative of the endemic narcissism at the heart of it, that endeavours to place ourselves at the centre of our experience, using our images to mark our claim on our destinations like planting the American flag on the moon, but in a more ephemeral way; a photograph is a moment, and it is only in that moment we can make claim to a place of interest.
It was only a matter of time before documenter of the crass reality of tourism Martin Parr made this series of people using selfie sticks. His viewpoint is ambiguous. While nothing can shy from his scrutiny, his portrayal of people using them is not wholeheartedly cynical or sarcastic. Perhaps critiquing the selfie stick is too obvious. While the images are amusing, they also present people enjoying themselves, and that is nothing to look down on. When in the past he photographed people in turn photographing tourist destinations such as the Leaning Tower of Pisa, where everyone in view is absurdly miming propping it up, the photographers were always facing the other way. On his blog post he writes that the selfie stick allows him to photograph the tourist with the focus of their photo, which has been an improvement. It is this ambiguity that makes his work interesting. Parr is intrigued by how different cultures interact en masse. The images would perhaps be a bit snide if he didn’t also have fondness for his subjects. But there is a sense that in photographing them he is still standing above it. It would be interesting to see Martin Parr using a selfie stick himself, but I don’t think you can get a ring-flash attachment for an iPhone…