From Iceland — Know Thy Selfie

Know Thy Selfie

Published February 25, 2014

The ‘Behind’ photography exhibition with Elo Vázquez

Know Thy Selfie

The ‘Behind’ photography exhibition with Elo Vázquez

When Elo Vázquez first began displaying her photography on the internet in 2002, the web was a great meeting place for photographers to share and discuss their art. “There was a really nice community of photographers from all over the world,” she says, “but that’s completely over now.”

Now we live in the era of Facebook and Instagram, where our social media profile has become our second self with our profile picture becoming our second face. It’s become a world where to know thyself is to ‘know thy selfie.’

Elo’s exhibition entitled ‘Behind’ on display at the Reykjavík Museum of Photography is partly in response to this ‘Great Selfie Era.’ As she walks me through it, Elo says what scares her about this development is the fact that it is so “unnatural,” yet social media has made it commonplace for people to constantly take pictures of themselves.

Behind The Frame

Although she had known for two years that she would have an exhibition with the Reykjavík Museum of Photography, Elo was still unsure exactly which pieces to display or how to organise them until the week before the exhibition was supposed to open. It was then, as she went through her archives of old photographs, that Elo discovered a theme of ‘behindness’ in her work.

A number of the pictures in Elo’s collection show individuals posing in different situations with their faces covered by objects, such as a fir branch or a doorframe. Elo points to a photograph of someone sitting in a car with their face covered by a bouquet of flowers, which she took at a wedding in a small town in the Czech Republic.

She says that part of her desire for this style of photography comes from her own shyness. She admits she’s not a very outgoing person and never enjoyed being the centre of attention or having her picture taken. “I feel it’s very violent,” she explains. So it was just a small step from hiding from the camera to hiding behind one.

Iceland Unphotoshopped

None of Elo’s photography is digital. She proudly holds up her Canon analogue camera, which is an old clunky point and shoot that looks like a black plastic brick. She demonstrates how she has to cover the flash with her finger because the camera was found broken by her boyfriend while he was going through a pile of junk from his teenage years.

Despite being somewhat archaic—this camera no more belongs to the “Selfie Era” than bellbottoms or lava lamps—Elo loves how taking photos with the analogue camera keeps everything spontaneous and in the moment. She feels that digital photography is “almost like cheating,” because you can take the same picture over and over again until you get it just right, whereas with analogue photography you only have a single chance to capture a single instant.

Because of her refusal to use digital photography, Elo sees her exhibition portraying a side of Iceland that’s been more than a bit overlooked and tells the story of what’s been left behind by ‘serious’ photography. She prefers to show that Iceland is more than massive landscape-photos of glaciers, waterfalls and the Northern Lights, all taken with expensive filters and photoshopped to look technically perfect. In a sense, Elo’s exhibition portrays the real Iceland, an Iceland unphotoshopped.

Face, Meet Branch

Even though Elo’s exhibit makes a statement about modern photography, she believes that photography doesn’t have to be so serious and is proud of the playful element in her photos.

Pointing to a photograph of several small dogs rolling around on a lawn and sceptically glancing at the camera, Elo explains that there are several pieces in her exhibition that are downright goofy, and that suits her just fine.

And when it comes right down to it, Elo’s desire for a light-hearted exhibit outweighs her distaste for digital photography. “Digital photography is opening a whole new world that I would like to explore somehow,” she says. The transition just isn’t easy and is definitely going to take some time.

In fact, she encourages visitors to take digital photos of themselves at her exhibit. Not a selfie, of course, but a photo where their faces are masked. A plaque on the wall reads “There is a branch there. Get behind it. Take a picture. Share it somewhere. #behindbehind,” goading visitors to spread the anti-selfie movement onto their Facebook pages.

To view more of Elo Vázquez’s photography click here.

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