Selfies & Sacred Places

Byodo Temple-Oahu

When I visited the DMZ in Korea, I posed for a couple of pictures but it felt wrong  to be doing that at the most heavily fortified border in the world. The place where two sides are still technically at war. The place that more than 60 years later keeps two countries but one people apart. In neither picture am I smiling. In the one taken outside that shows North Korea in the background, I look slightly relaxed. But in the photo taken with a South Korean soldier who almost looks fake for how rigid he has to be while on duty, I have a serious face. I guess even then at the age of 19, I felt “wrong” to be taking this type of picture.

Granted, the DMZ is something of a tourist industry. While you can’t exactly go yourself or walk around at your leisure, there are still droves of companies advertising on the streets of Seoul, touting their tours to the DMZ. To me though, it was a place to learn about and understand the past.

In the last couple of days, an uproar has surfaced over one college age girl taking a “selfie” at the Auschwitz concentration camp. In the picture that has gone viral and made countless online news sites, the girl is smiling (rather broadly) even though the buildings that were the site of unimaginable horrors are in the background. The girl claimed that her smiling selfie was a “moment of bonding with her deceased father” as they had studied Auschwitz and the Holocaust together.

While the girl (hopefully) never meant to be disrespectful by taking a photo of herself, she became disrespectful when she “just had” to post it to social media channels. If it was something you wanted to share with your deceased dad, why then share it with hundreds of people who are probably not even actual friends in real life? (By this I’m referring to when you shake someone’s hand at a party and 10 minutes later you’re “friends” on Facebook.) I’m all for encouraging bearing witness to places that were sites of grim events, but you still need to remember and respect the sanctity of these places.

There was a time, long before the era of smart phones and selfies, where one visited a sacred place and paid his respects. Now in the era of social media, people are taking photos, posting them to social media sites, and checking in on Four Square. Society has become so obsessed with needing to be “connected,” people neither care nor realize how obnoxious and more importantly disrespectful they have become.

I have never been to a concentration camp although it is something I feel I would definitely want to do. Being a photographer I know that I would take pictures, countless most likely. However, I’m not sure if I would ever want to or could pose there. Simply put, I would want to remember the memory of all those lives that were taken. I don’t need to see me “there” because in the memory of all Holocaust victims, I am of no importance.

Byodo Temple-Oahu

Sacred places should be captured, but there’s no need for a “selfie.”

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  • Reply
    Jo Ann M. (@JoAnn0924)
    August 2, 2014 at 6:34 pm

    Julie this is such a beautiful heartfelt post!

    I agree with you. Selfies should not be taken at sacred places. Unfortunately, social media encourages people to trivialize everything. It’s become all about getting the photo out there and less about experiencing the moment & the place.

    I would love to visit the Holocaust museum in Washington D.C. for the experience, not to take a photo in front of it.

    People need to really learn the history of these places to truly appreciate them.

    Your photo is gorgeous!

    • Reply
      August 4, 2014 at 9:20 pm

      Thank you Jo Ann!

      I feel that the generation that grew up with social media, everything is just a sharing/commenting game to them. I definitely feel that the concept of being respectful when the situation is called for is completely lost on them.

      Yes, anyone can visit a place but it’s entirely different to know what went on there.

      And thanks for the kind words about the photo-it was taken at a beautiful Buddhist temple on Oahu, utterly tranquil and peaceful, far away from the chaos of Honolulu.

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