17 May 2017

LOVE/HATE THE SELFIE

WORDS & PHOTOS x Damian Breach

I have to be honest and say that my mountain bike selfies create internal conflict. Personally, I dislike traditional “selfies” as I tend to associate them with Justin Bieber’s teenage fans filling their social media feeds with duck-faces, or narcissistic gym junkies showing off all their #fitspo glory. But then I go and take photos of myself on a bike? Hypocrisy at its best (or worse) – I am still to work out that internal battle.

A bit of background first.

I started taking riding selfies out of necessity. I used to do bike/product testing and a combination of my riding friends either being too busy, unavailable because they had 9-5 (real) jobs, or they were sponsored by rival companies so they couldn’t mix their Rockshox’s with their Fox’s. This meant I had to find a way to get the photos I needed to accompany the words I was writing – so my MTB riding selfie was born.

Those early days were rudimentary at best and the results were even worse. I tried using the self-timer but running back to my bike, getting on the bike, and perfectly timing that awesome skid proved to be pointless. Back then (2004 or so) I had an unhealthy addiction to flash photography (you know, two/three flashes off-camera). Because of that I had more than a handful of Pocket Wizards (PW) laying around, so I began experimenting with remote triggers. It worked an absolute treat; however having to use my thumb on the PW button at that moment of action was a little scary and that’s how my final set-up came about.

Off to my local electronics (geek) shop I went and purchased a simple on/off switch and bar-mounted it via an old front derailleur shifter body (I’ve been a 1x rider well before it was popular) which was then connected to a PW mounted next to the stem. I now had a perfectly positioned bar-mounted remote where I could:

– ride towards a scene,
– hit the on/off button to the ‘on’ position (which triggered the camera to start taking photos in continuous shutter mode),
– place my thumb back to the right riding position,
– ride the scene, do a skid or turn-bar safely, and
– hit the button again to the ‘off’ position (which stopped the camera taking photos).

It worked, and worked well, but did leave a squillion photos to edit later due to the more than excessive “spraying and praying” needed to ensure a good (in focus) shot. (Establishing good focus is another subject that needs another 5000 words to explain so I’ll leave that for another time.) Since that day this has been my favoured set-up with only a few modifications to the bar-mount made over time.

My photography needs have changed over time and as my photography has matured I tend to use the selfies more for my travel and adventure stories (like this one for Eskapee). For those photos it’s more often about the scenery and the landscape than the person or action so it tends to be a little easier to nail the shot. Also, I can be self-sufficient and not have to arrange “talent” to shoot. For sure I love riding with other people and prefer taking photos of them but at times it just proved to be easier (lazier) to capture myself. Through experience I found that there’s only a small subset of people who actually realise what it takes to do a mountain bike photo shoot and posting stuff on Facebook looking for random people to shoot at the 11th hour has been an excellent journey of discovery. (Spending 4 hours on a 5km ride with about 30 stop-start photo locations can wear thin on both parties if you’re not ready for it.)

But to get back to my opening paragraph: Is it narcissistic and just like the other #selfies that fill social media? Is it just an extension of a selfie stick? Am I just as bad as the those people looking for some kind of positive affirmation from a circle of like-minded people desperate for a few more likes or follows? I have yet to come to my own complete conclusions but the more I think of it the more I ask myself, “Why am I taking these selfies”. You see, to me, that’s the question that leads to the right answer. The answer for me is about using the images to help tell a story about a place or trail or experience and part of an editorial expression. I am comfortable in the fact that I’m not using them to show off my six-pack or my good looks or my latest expensive watch – none of which I have anyway.

But untimely, no one probably gives a shit anyway..What do you think of the #mtbselfie?

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