Why Photobombs Are Better Than Selfies
I have no problem with selfies.
But the overwhelming cultural fascination with this form — pro and con — has finally made it necessary to speak out on behalf of a different digital-age photography phenomenon. The time has come to fully appreciate the consistent excellence of photobombing.
Sure, photobombs get attention — they go viral; they inspire lists; people submit their favorites to meme-collection sites. And “photobomb” has been dutifully entered into the online version of the Oxford English Dictionary, as a verb, meaning to “[s]poil a photograph of (a person or thing) by unexpectedly appearing in the camera’s field of view as the picture is taken, typically as a prank or practical joke.”
But still. “Selfie” was the Oxford Dictionaries’ “Word of the Year” in 2013. The practice has continued to inspire exhaustive histories, earnest art criticism, outrage over the newest inappropriate selfie-in-the-news, and endless fake-contrarian “defense of selfies” exercises.
Obviously selfies need no “defense.” They are the belle of the Web visual ball, the loved-and-condemned center of digital-image conversation.
Again, that’s fine. There is no reason to bury the selfie. But there is every reason to praise the photobomb.
The opposite of “spoiled”
I have no problem with Kevin Spacey.
As an actor he seems, you know, just fine. But as a photobomber, Spacey plays a pivotal role in my appreciation of the genre.
One day last year, a woman named Christina Sander was visiting Boston, and paused to have a friend take her picture in front of a monument. At that moment, Spacey was jogging through Boston Common, and noticed her. “This is a photobomb!” he shouted, she later recounted, and theatrically inserted himself into the frame.
Then he jogged away. Sander, a Spacey fan, was clearly thrilled.
This incident sums up everything that is magical about the photobomb.
Specifically, the Spaceybomb reveals that — despite the definitions offered by the OED Online or Wikipedia — do not “spoil” photographs.
To the contrary, a good one converts a totally mundane image into a hilarious, delightful, genuinely special one. That is: They create a photograph.
Consider the visual results of the Kevin Spacey episode. For that matter, consider the picture Wikipedia uses as an archetypal photobomb:
The non-photobombed versions of these images would be of interest to almost nobody. Photobombing punctures workaday visuals — and transforms them for the better.