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A UMBC student takes a picture of AOK library across The Pond. Photo by Montse Soto.

Opinion: get on a (camera) roll

In 2021, most adult Americans have personal cameras that fit in their pockets, built into devices which are not even named after this photo-taking function. Yet the camera persists as a crucial specification when buying a smartphone, with the newest models such as the iPhone 12 and the Samsung Galaxy S21 5G boasting three lenses each. 

The general public has been able to capture true-to-life images since 1888 when, according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Kodak #1 camera came onto the market and allowed for the explosion of amateur photography.

133 years later, the user-friendly interface of smartphone cameras, with settings clearly labeled and organized, means that the average user does not even need to know the purpose of multiple lenses; indeed, it has become simple to capture landscapes in panoramic shots, take high-quality portraits with built-in facial recognition technology and even apply lighting filters before clicking the shutter button.

These technologies make photography an accessible art to try; countless free videos online teach users how to make the most of their phones’ cameras. Apart from artistic endeavors, people take photos for myriad other reasons: recording visual information, sending to family and friends and of course, sharing online.

Stigma comes with these and other related non-artistic photographic intentions. The most pervasive examples of this stigma are generally directed towards the younger generations. Generally, it is considered culturally acceptable in America to ridicule young adults for taking pictures of their food, their surroundings and, most of all, themselves.

The cultural shame around selfies has roots in perceived narcissism. But there is a difference between narcissism and self-confidence. How has mass judgment of others’ bodies come to the point that appreciating one’s own face is perceived as arrogant? And why is the perception of others about one’s body more important than one’s own?

Furthermore, in feminist theory, selfies could even be a way to build positivity for the self. As Psychology Today reports, a 2016 study examined how ‘mirror meditation,’ or looking at one’s own image in the mirror with the single goal of being present (an idea that came from feminist scholar Simone de Beauvoir), and the results indicated that this practice could increase self-compassion. 

And selfies compose only a part of the stigmatized practice of recording moments in photographs, one that can foster joy and closeness. Going through old photos in the camera roll is a fun activity to share with friends, whether for remembering time together or sparking memories of new stories to tell each other.

There are potential downsides to using photography, such as the concept that increased smartphone use in general could be negatively impacting human cognition. So it is probably still best to take notes rather than photos of the blackboard. And overuse of cameras can be rude, such as when swarming public places in desperate attempts to photograph oft-viewed sights or even dangerous, such as when crossing the street.

With that in mind, responsible personal photography — never putting anyone in danger or intruding on privacy — should not be a source of shame. No one should feel obligated to capture and post about their lives, but no one should be mocked for doing so, either. 

Life is short. The personal camera is a wonderful invention that itself has only been around for about 133 years. Take photos with your friends if they are comfortable with it. Snap a picture of the recipe you are proud of making. Take a selfie for no other reason than you want to see your own face. Or, do not. Just be mindful and kind, whatever you choose to do.