Dubai Diaries: Are my selfies worth an album?

anjana@khaleejtimes.com Filed on September 18, 2021

I can’t remember the last time a photo was so valuable to me that I went through the now-seemingly-difficult rigmarole of printing it out and framing it.

I don’t remember the first time I posed for a camera. I guess it was a big event in my maternal home in Kerala in the 1970s. A professional photographer looking as archaic and oversized as his timeworn camera was called to click an epic photo of us, three siblings.

He would have arranged us all according to height and shushed us and barked directions at us: chin up! Sit straight! Smile! Finally, the grand, single click, producing a family heirloom to be handed down across the generations.

My own passage into adulthood as I graduated from year 10 was marked by more clicks. Cameras had developed enough by that point that even in my small town I was able to go to a small, somewhat dingy studio, where a professional photographer snapped me in my half-sari.

Again, a barrage of instructions came at me in waves: Chin up! Chin down! Look left! Look right! Smile! Powder! Smile again! This time there were a number of clicks, and I remember, going through the half a dozen copies he gave me to choose from.

Photography as an art and technology evolved catching up with my progression from school to college. We had a camera at home, and we no longer needed professionals to mark the big occasions. Now, each of us could capture our special moments.

Still, every picture felt precious. We had to endlessly bargain to own a full roll of Kodak film that recorded only 24 moments of my eventful life. Each snap carefully chosen were meticulously made into albums that we would pour over, revisit, and hold precious.

Then came the digital cameras and the smartphone and spelling the death of photo albums. A decade ago, just as I got my first digital camera, I took a whirlwind European tour with my mom. I don’t remember much of what we saw, but I cannot forget what I put my mom through: in front of every famous European site, I made her take endless pictures of me.

This time I gave her the instructions: Move Back, Come Close! Portrait! Whether in front of Buckingham Palace, on top of the Eiffel Tower, or floating down Venetian canals, I thought little about what we were seeing and much more about how pretty I would look in the photographs. And, of course, I have not looked at them since: I assume they are buried on a hard disk somewhere, condemned to obscurity and neglect.

At this point, photography bears little resemblance to my college experience, let alone the studios or home visits of my youth. We all snap endlessly on our smartphones, recording the minutiae and trivialities of our lives.

I can’t remember the last time I snapped a photo that was so valuable to me that I went through the now-seemingly-difficult rigmarole of printing it out and framing it.

We all have one or a few precious pictures of my grandparents and even my parents. What am I leaving for my posterity? May be a litter of selfies and fake candid snaps swarming the social media space.


Anjana Sankar

Anjana Sankar is a UAE-based journalist chasing global stories of conflict, migration and human rights. She has reported from the frontlines of the wars in Yemen and Syria and has extensively written on the refugee crisis in Bangladesh, Iraq and Europe. From interviewing Daesh militants to embedding with the UAE army in Yemen, and covering earthquakes, floods, terrorist attacks and elections, she has come out scathe-free from the most dangerous conflict zones of the world. Riding on over 14 years of experience, Anjana currently is an Assistant Editor with Khaleej Times and leads the reporting team. She often speaks about women empowerment on her Facebook page that has 40,000 plus followers.