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The Selfie Dilemma

August 28, 2015

So, August has been very much the great British summer. And mine for one reason or another has been filled with traveling. In the last 28 days, I’ve visited Blackpool Tower, Stirling and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Unfortunately I have no photos of Blackpool Tower to show you. And the reason for that is what I want to talk about today.

Nowadays with smartphone cameras, which have been designed for people to be able to take photos of themselves and the even more recent genesis of one of the most controversial inventions of recent years, the selfie stick, photography – and decent photography – can be a one man job.

However – and this should be a good thing – the British etiquette of politeness is still alive and well, though it would appear at odds with decent photography. Invariably, strangers in the nearby vicinity who see lone photographers with their smartphones stretched apparently uncomfortably at arms length, offer a helping hand – they think – to take a better photo the traditional way.

My advice to would-be-hero photographers – please… don’t do this unless you have a talent for photography. I know you think you’re helping out. But honestly. If you don’t know what you’re doing, without putting too finer point on it, you’re not. Because, with the best of intentions of helping out your fellow man, you cause something I have come to call The Selfie Dilemma. Let me explain…

While in Blackpool to attend a friend’s wedding, I had a secondary mission to show my Londoner girlfriend more of the country and prove that civilisation exists North of Watford Gap; and with that in mind, visited the recently refurbished Blackpool Tower where a number of photo opportunities were attempted.

Blackpool Tower, like most viewing towers the world over, isn’t the biggest place. While now equipped with a glass floor and three levels which provide views of the sea, the pier and otherwise fairly uninteresting skyline of Blackpool, it isn’t a big place and there is nowhere to hide. You become familiar, at least by face, with everybody who happens to be taking in the view at the same time as you.

So when somebody helpfully – they think – offers to take a photo for you and produces this remarkable masterpiece:

Photo Taken By Stranger

…you know you have a problem.


But what do you do about it? Everybody always says, “You can have a look and see if it’s okay…” but how many people are going to say, “Actually you haven’t really captured my vision. This isn’t really what I was going for. Would you like to try again?”

I’m half British and half Indian. Which pretty much makes me the most reserved man in the world. That’s not what you say. Even when they hand you the phone back and you’re presented with the photo above. You say what every British person would say, “Thank you so much” and walk off fake-smiling wondering whether they’ve ever seen an iPhone before; can see at all; or had the slightest idea of what they were doing. You would rather accept substandard work, do without the photo you wanted and not offend a stranger than put your foot down and say honestly yet politely that you know what mate, this actually isn’t good enough.

But you still have a problem. You still don’t have a photo. So you wander around the tiny space that is the viewing deck allowing an appropriate amount of time to pass before you try again. You extend your arm, frame the photo, get everything almost exactly as you want it before somebody chimes in “helpfully” and offers the same service for free again.

And of course, you oblige. They’re helping you out after all. It can’t possibly happen twice. Can it?

Finger Photo

And you’ll never believe it. They come out with the same sodding result!

And that’s why I have no photos of Blackpool Tower to show you.

General consensus (up North) is that people are friendlier up North. But a couple of weeks later the same thing happened in London.

As one of a number of surprises to mark my thirtieth birthday, Maaya took me for mocktails to the Oxo Tower where we drank Lychee juice and ate humus and flat bread while watching the sun go down over the Thames. Of this, I have a decent photo (that I took myself)…

Sunset Over The Thames


Not a bad effort in my opinion. Very early Michael Bay.

But before this, we had wandered onto the viewing deck slash smoking area to take a selfie with both of us in it (as you do). So once again I outstretched my arm to frame the photo and smiled before a woman offered to take the photo for us. Now I could spin this and talk about how it represents the kindness of strangers and alludes to humankind and specifically Londoners being a little more altruistic than their reputation would suggest. But I can’t. Because she took a shit photo.

She took a shit photo and then lit up a cigarette and began to smoke it. Now, I don’t smoke and any of my friends that do, do it alone so I have no idea how long it takes to smoke a cigarette. But now I’m presented with a similar dilemma. I have to wait until she leaves the area before we can reattempt the photo in order not to offend her. Because let’s face it. Having her take a photo and then standing there ourselves and retaking it is like telling the stranger who offered her services for free, “Hey. Lady. You took a shit photo!”

So that’s why I have no photo of us at the Oxo Tower.

I guess the important thing should be, as I’ve said, that human kindness still exists in however small a way this proves, even though the media and personal experience tells me that it’s often thin on the ground. I should focus on the fact that their intentions were better than their photography skills. But that still leaves me without photos. I wish I had a solution to this. It may come to trying to sneakily take photos without being seen, or pretending I don’t speak English.

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