Selfies vs Autographs -- A Story on the Selfie King

Everywhere I’ve ever lived, my places have pens in every room, and piles of magazines. The reason is this. As a writer and journalist, I sometimes have an idea and I’m in one room, and wish I had a pen nearby. Or, you may be on the phone and somebody says something you need to write down. Regarding magazines, I only have a subscription to a few, and my wife gets a few. Yet as a movie critic, a lot of the entertainment magazines will send me copies for free. I have no clue why, but I’m not complaining. Except for the fact that I now have magazines everywhere and they sometimes pile up on the counter or coffee table. I never let my wife throw them away until I’ve looked through them, because I never know when an interesting story will pop up, even in a magazine I don’t care much about. An example is an issue of Vanity Fair I was looking at, from late last year.

It was called “The Selfie King.” It’s about a guy in the mid-70s who, as a Harvard senior, became obsessed with selfies. Now, in 1974 that wasn’t even a term. Jean Pigozzi now has a book called “ME + CO: The Selfies: 1972 - 2017.” and it has many of the pictures of him sticking his fat face, cheek to cheek with many of the biggest celebs of the day. In the opening of the story, you see him between Jerry Hall and Mick Jagger. Another next to John Belushi, who has his trademark eyebrow arched up. Arnold Schwarzenneger has a similar look, with a wacky facial expression. There’s a nice shot of him and the late Christopher Reeve.

The current “selfie king” in my opinion, is this wacky guy that appears on the Jimmy Kimmel Show. His name is Yehya, and he’s a cab driver that when he asked Kimmel for a selfie, they started talking. Kimmel found it fascinating how brazen he was approaching stars, and how many photos he had. So he brought the guy on the show and showed various photos he had gotten over the years. That lead to him becoming a regular on the show, including doing red carpet interviews and movie reviews. Part of the fun for everyone is that he doesn’t have the best English, but his enthusiasm is infectious.

It makes more sense with people getting selfies today (even though I’ve never cared much about them). Everyone has a camera now. When Pigozzi took selfies, he had this huge camera, and it even had a flash bulb, and would take 10 seconds to wind up. He explains in the story how you’d need the bulb for the shots to come out properly and he said it helped that he had a rather long arm. He also points out the fact that you really only had one shot at it, and you never knew if the photo came out until you got them developed at a later date (he claims his one with Julie Christie was ugly, but doesn’t state if that’s her or him looking bad). Now you can see the photo immediately, even as you’re actually taking the picture.

This all started for Pigozzi in the weirdest way, and I’m sure all of us autograph collectors can relate. It was 1974 and Faye Dunaway was getting a “Woman of the Year” award from the Harvard Hasty Pudding Club. When the audience was asking questions, he asked why she didn’t shave her armpits when she did a Vogue layout.”

It’s a question I once thought about asking Madonna, but I digress. Anyway, after the event, he brought his wide-angle lense camera, and got a selfie with her. That lead to him wanting more and getting a bit obsessive about it. And just like autograph collectors, he found out the places to go. He’d meet athletes, models, artists, actors, musicians, and even people that weren’t famous. I’m sure a lot of those photos didn’t make the book, though.

Pigozzi was lucky in the fact that he ended up meeting people at just the right places, that helped him in his pursuit. He met Ahmet Ertegun, the record label mogul, as well as Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone (who wrote the forward to the book). Those friendships obviously lead to a lot of selfies.

Of the hundreds and hundreds of people he met, only one refused a picture. Patti Smith (who once turned me down for an autograph in LA at the Roxy because of some dopey autograph dealer in front of me with 40 different 8x10s she signed for)...she said, “No, you can’t do that!” He said she went crazy about it, so he just walked away.

One of the things I found amusing in the story is how he says, “I was always amazed that people would ask for autographs from movie stars or from sports people. How does it really prove that you met the person? If you have a selfie, it shows that you’re standing next to the Pope or Taylor Swift or Mick Jagger.”

Yes, that’s true, but...we aren’t getting autographs to PROVE we met them. We want a baseball autographed by Mickey Mantle, or a basketball signed by Jordan, because...they were amazing at their sports, we’re fans, and we really don’t care if it was our neighbor that got it for us and we never met them. It’s not about “meeting” them. And the knock I have on selfie people is that they don’t realize...NOBODY CARES if you have a photo next to somebody. That doesn’t mean you know them. It means you saw them in a restaurant, an airport, or at a book signing...and you crunched down and put your face remotely near theirs, and snapped a photo. Who cares? Are you going to make an 8x10 of that, frame it, and hang it in your living room? No, you’re not. It just stays on your phone, until you lose it. I’d much rather have Jagger sign my “Exile on Main Street” album.

Views: 190

Tags: Faye Dunaway, Jann Wenner, Jean Belushi, Jimmy Kimmel, John Pigozzi, Julie Christie, Mick Jagger, Patti Smith, Rolling Stone, Yehya, More…selfie king

Comment by Joe W. on July 11, 2018 at 11:13am

I don't understand the infatuation with selfies. Nor how getting yourself photographed beside someone who doesn't even know your name let alone care one hoot about you. I'd rather just get a photo of the celebrity without my face being in the middle of it.

Comment by Josh Board on July 11, 2018 at 11:16am

Your last sentence Joe...makes me wonder why, when people go to these nice places (pyramids, a waterfall, etc), it has to be a selfie!!!! Just take a picture of the beautiful thing in front of you, without your dang face in it!!!

I didn't even get into the fact that, with all the selfie people, it hurts the autograph collector, because...stars know once they stop to sign an autograph, that person (and many others) will want to get a selfie also. They'd much rather sign a name quickly, then stand there and have you try to figure out the camera, tell them it didn't turn out and can you do another one, and...they might not be wearing makeup or look good, either.

Comment by Joe W. on July 11, 2018 at 11:52am

Although it's not how the "selfie king" got started but most of this has to do with the current social media era. It's all about the "likes" and "thumbs up". I'm a dinosaur so I don't do facebook, twitter, or the like. But, as an autograph collector, I would think it would be cool to get a nice in person photo of the celebrity along with an autograph on a piece of paper and mat them together. Now, that's a story!

Comment by goodcat on July 11, 2018 at 11:55am

A great story Josh

About your comments on selfies... When I visited many many Mayan ruins in Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras recently , the one main thing I noticed about the visitors is the infatuation with selfies. Many people seemed more interested in their selfie shot than the actual ancient structure itself. It was odd to see at first but over time it just got annoying to witness. Some people (mostly girls) spent so much time on their selfie shot that I couldn't get a good photo of the ruins without them being in my shot.

Selfies have their place but it's really gotten a bit ridiculous these days

Cheers

Comment by Rich on July 11, 2018 at 12:06pm

Someone did a thread on this (last year maybe) on selfies vs. autographs, and it's something I've always been a bit torn on. Selfies and photo ops don't have any monetary value to third parties, which is obvious. If you eliminate that aspect, it really is a matter of personal preference. I usually try for both, as my photo op history is pretty spotty at best. So whether you're photogenic or not (or care) comes into that equation.

I disagree on the "they'd rather sign" thing. Maybe for some celebs, but definitely not all. Some would rather do photo ops, especially if they know or suspect non-fan rackers are a sizable percentage of the group. If you eliminate sellers, then what you have left are more likely to be actual fans. 

When it comes to celeb photo ops, I typically never take selfies - oddly enough in the two occasions in recent years I can thing of, it's been at the musician's request or insistence (and both turned out better than expected). 

But autographs can be signed from afar, at mass signings or through the mail, or through minimal interaction. I can't see any good argument that autographs are a more personal memory than a photo op.

In my opinion, the "nobody cares" argument about selfies is flat out not true and completely dismissive of social media in today's culture. Post either on social media, and the photo op will almost certainly get more attention. 

Comment by Josh Board on July 11, 2018 at 9:51pm

Hey Rich, yeah that was me that did a big thing on it. It's an issue that's always kind of bothered me (selfie people, making it hard for the autograph collector)

Comment by Josh Board on July 11, 2018 at 9:52pm

Regarding the "they'd rather sign," let me explain. I've interviewed hundreds and hundreds of famous people, and most of them (at least 75%) have told me that when I've asked that question. For a variety of reasons. The most common reason being it takes SOOO MUCH LONGER than when you just signed 5 autographs for a small crowd at an airport, versus 25 people all wanting photos, etc.

Comment by Robert Babb on July 13, 2018 at 5:32pm

I would rather get the autograph!

Comment by Rich 58 minutes ago

I feel like this was brought up in that thread from a couple years ago, but it's starting to feel a bit more like true autograph collecting is at least a generational thing. Think about it: 20+ years ago, when you met your favorite celebrity, asking for an autograph was really about the only way you could walk away with a souvenir. Cameras were not always available as they weren't carried around with the regularity they are today. They were also of lesser quality, less reliable and generally bigger and bulkier. So, it was usually autograph or bust.

Likewise, if you wanted to correspond or interact with a celebrity from afar, a written letter requesting an autograph was just about the only route. After all, what else was there? I first became interested in the hobby in the mid-90s. The internet was in its infancy and social media was non-existant. The thought of having some type of connection to your favorite stars really came down to autographs, as there just wasn't much else.

Fast forward to today when the internet has drastically changed the way we communicate with each other. Twitter (and to a lesser extent Facebook and Instagram) has opened the door for direct interaction with our favorite stars. Media overall is different has expanded to new formats. Some of our favorite actors and musicians are closer to us than before, and there are more ways than ever to have a special moment with many of them, formally or informally. That's not to say the world's biggest stars are now super-accessible, but the range of possibilities is expanding for the people we admire and idolize. 

I see a lot of fans who are ecstatic when their favorite singer so much as likes their tweet or even responds directly to them. Meet and greet opportunities seem to have expanded (for better or worse), and now even video messages and live online Q&A's are even a thing. I joined and Instagram live stream for my favorite singer a few weeks ago, and she started talking about me! Something like that was unfathomable a couple decades ago.

Meanwhile, the greed factor of professional collectors and the decline of handwriting - thanks also to technology - have largely destroyed the celebrity signature. I see so many garbage scribbles out there that just aren't even worth owning let alone paying for, and it makes that much more sense that millennials are somewhat less interested in autographs. 

As far whether it's something you can hang on your wall, that landscape has changed as well. For many people, how many people are going to see what's in their living room as opposed to what's on their Facebook wall or Twitter feed? If it comes down to impressing people or starting conversations, social media also offers the best opportunities for that, or, at least, the most possibilities.

All this being said, I still really like autographs, especially getting them in person. But, overall, they don't have quite the same impact for me as a fan as they did years ago. 

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