Should I Take a Selfie?

Should I Take a Selfie?

Photographer Gary He recently spent an hour at the National September 11 Memorial surreptitiously taking photos of people taking selfies. He posted a set on Medium in a piece entitled The Quiet Dignity of Tourist at The 9/11 Memorialwhich opens with a photo of Burger King cups over the names of some of the deceased. He follows with images like this one of two tourists in brightly colored shirts. The man takes a selfie while on his cell phone, and his companion stares blankly to the top of the selfie stick while sticking out her tongue. It’s a brilliant photo that illustrates the boorishness of selfie culture.


Photo by Gary He

2,606 people died when the Twin Towers collapsed. This act of terrorism led to the Iraq War which killed approximately 133,000 civilians, and 4,486 US troops, and cost approximately $1.7 trillion.

Should you take a selfie at a memorial?

Alabama teen Breanna Mitchell took a selfie at Auschwitz in June 2014, which led to an online uproar. She was smiling along with her emoticon.

1.1 million people were killed at Auschwitz.

Should you take a selfie at a memorial?

This past June, tourists in Tunisia took selfies on the spot where an ISIS gunman shot and killed 38 people.

Should you take a selfie at a memorial?

The obvious answer might be no. But a more nuanced answer is complicated. People have taken photos at memorials since the advent of consumer photography. The social media phenomenon of “pics or it didn’t happen” and the “Like” culture have fueled the popularity of the selfie. But just because it’s linked with higher rates of narcissism and psychopathy doesn’t necessarily mean the selfie is any less respectful than 1) an architectural photo, or 2) a photo that someone else takes of you standing at a memorial.

Are people upset that Mitchell took a selfie? Or that she was smiling? Does the act of taking a selfie necessarily mean you are not serious about your surroundings, or uninformed about its history? Or does it simply mean that tourists want a record of where they have been? Do we object to the crassness and obviousness of the selfie stick?


Surely it’s inappropriate to climb or deface a monument for purposes of a selfie. But the psychological role of the selfie might extend beyond the obvious, so like many things, it’s hard to create a blanket rule for every situation and every selfie.

Should you take a selfie at a memorial?



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Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and co-founder of PhotoShelter.

There are 2 comments for this article
  1. Andrew Fingerman at 9:34 am

    I had a similar reaction to Gary’s piece. The answer is indeed complicated. In Gary’s photos, it seems he’s making few judgements, only documenting. You cannot fault someone for taking a selfie if the intention is to respectfully commemorate and remember where they are, if it treats the memorial with dignity. Yet, I think the two problems come about when a) the tourists are all smiles, and the act of getting the best selfie (with ridiculous selfie sticks) trumps the recognition that one is in a solemn place of misery and remembrance, and b) when it moves from capturing “sense of place” and storytelling to the moronic pursuit of “likes” (generally the hashtags are a dead giveaway). To me, the latter is what demonstrates a disgusting lack of respect for whatever the memorial may be.

  2. Tim Huntington at 8:47 am

    “The man takes a selfie while on his cell phone, and his companion stares blankly to the top of the selfie stick while sticking out her tongue.”

    I wouldn’t necessarily apply such a damning critique to this pair from the one image. I wasn’t there, so I’m obviously speculating, but to me it looks like he’s using his phone as a monitor for the GoPro on top of the stick and that she’s pulling faces ‘cos she’s bored of the amount of time it’s taking him to get himself organized.

    They may well have been trying to ensure a loved one’s name was visible in the shot with them so that they could share it with relatives.

    Admittedly, I doubt that’s what was happening, but you can’t really tell one way or the other from that one frame.

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