'Selfies With Homeless People'

Today in selfie sadness: images that treat sleeping humans as scenery

Selfies at Funerals. Selfies at Serious Places. Selfies Before Teachers Who Are Going Into Labor. Selfies Before Suicide Attempts. Here's another one to add to the collection: Selfies With Homeless People

The phenomenon is exactly what it claims to be: people snapping photos of themselves posing with homeless people. Sometimes, these photos are proper selfies, captured by the subject of the photos; more often, they're simply portraits shot by some unnamed photographer. Sometimes, they feature subjects posing with a smiling homeless person; more often, the posing occurs without the consent of the individual in question.

These images are common, it's worth noting, only in the sense that there are enough instances of them to populate a Tumblr. 

They are also, it's needless to say, profoundly sad. 

 

 

On the one hand, let's not give too much time to—or read too much into—these photos. Some people have poor judgment; some people use others as means to ends; some people are terrible. None of that is new or worth our time. 

What's worth a moment—just a moment—of pause, though, is the way these images take the logic of the selfie to a morally vacuous extreme. They treat sleeping humans as ironic backdrops to the subjects of the images in question—like so many picturesque sunsets or famous landmarks or daintily set dinner tables. People, here, are presented as architecture.

My colleague Jim Hamblin, considering Selfies at Funerals, suggested that, despite their dubious taste level, the self-shot images tap into a broader attempt to make sense of grief and memory and mortality. Selfies With Homeless People have no such redemptive value. "Look at me, in front of this homeless person!" these images say. Their use of "person" itself is, of course, ironic. 

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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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