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.