A World Transfixed (and made) By Screens

“Celebrity selfies, people alone in a crowd with their phones, events obscured by the very devices used to record that event, the brightly lit faces of those bent over their small screens, these are some of the scenes depicted below.”

This sentence is Alan Taylor’s description of the photos that he compiled for Atlantic Photo the other day. I’m a sucker for his In Focus series, mostly because it is consistently the most beautiful and fascinating thing I can find on the web. 

The most recent collection, titled ‘A World Transfixed by Screens,’ is something else, though. The pictures depict a world transfixed by screens, true, but they also depict a world which is utterly constituted by screens. In them, we see more than attention paid to backlit glass; we see a world made by screens and mobile devices. 

A Chinese boy takes a selfie, with his iPhone 6, as he stands in front of a statue of Chairman Mao. Protestors hold up hundreds of phones to oppose an internet tax. A North Korean sentry checks her (flip)phone. Muslim pilgrims take photos and selfies during the final day of haj. 

My favorite image is Number 26. In it, a few tourists take selfies at Machu Picchu while, in the background, a man crouches to snap a photo. In front of him, in the shot, sits a young woman. She is facing away from the camera, looking toward the 15th century site, and it is not altogether clear if she is the object of the photograph. Is she posed, calmly seated for the purpose of a perfect cover photo? Or, is she merely seated, looking on for the purpose of looking on?

She is probably posed. It looks that way. But, it isn’t clear, and I like that it isn’t clear. There are all sorts of existential questions about the watcher versus the watched, or the significance of the screen-gaze, all sorts of questions I am incapable of addressing. Nonetheless, I loved the collection. Check it out.