Today in selfie sadness: images that treat sleeping humans as architecture.

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 homeless person 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 is 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. The "person" in this formulation is, of course, ironic.

This post originally appeared on The Atlantic.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A Soviet map of London, labeled in Russian.
    Maps

    The Soviet Military Secretly Mapped the Entire World

    These intricate, curious maps were supposed to be destroyed. The ones that remain reveal a fascinating portrait of how the U.S.S.R. monitored the world.

  2. Maps

    Mapping Where Europe's Population Is Moving, Aging, and Finding Work

    Younger people are fleeing rural areas, migrating northward, and having fewer children. Here’s how that’s changing the region.

  3. Life

    Is Minimalism for Black People?

    Black communities have long practiced core tenets of the lifestyle—yet are not well-represented amongst its most recognizable influencers.

  4. An illustration of a front porch.
    Life

    America Rediscovers Its Love of the Front Porch

    In the 20th century, porches couldn’t compete with TV and air conditioning. Now this classic feature of American homes is staging a comeback as something more stylish and image-conscious than ever before.

  5. Equity

    More Evidence That the Olympics Won't Fix Your City

    London really tried to use the 2012 Games to improve people’s lives. A new report shows the skeptics were right all along.