When You Visit Sacred Spaces, Think Before You Selfie

When You Visit Sacred Spaces, Think Before You Selfie

The rise of the selfie has driven a rift into society, bringing up a surprising number of issues over gender, class, age, religion and race. Wired‘s Jason Parham explores some of these in “When the Selfie Turns Sacrilegious”, an essay on taking selfies in sacred or serious places such as mosques and art installations.

Photo by Thomas Depenbusch

Parham acknowledges the power of the selfie to “will yourself into a world that has done its very best to destroy you”. But when visiting Morocco’s Hassan II Mosque, he felt uncomfortable at the number of fellow tourists taking selfies as locals went to prayer, and noticed that many of the locals seemed to feel the same, “pointing and commenting on the growing pageantry of solipsism.”

While opinions vary widely, those who look down on selfies at sacred spaces will often call them out online. When someone has decided your selfie is in poor taste, the grey area disappears. Even if you think you’re not being offensive, you might find yourself in a series of graphic Photoshopped Holocaust photos, in a horrified local blog post, or on a BuzzFeed list of regrettable selfies (most of which have been deleted out of shame). If you’re lucky, you might get to explain yourself to America’s ABC News. If you’re Beyoncé, you might provoke a thoughtful essay in the New Republic.

While some of the cases above feel clearly out of line (a Holocaust memorial is not an appropriate place to show off your flexible figure), it’s also reductive to assume every selfie taker is narcissistic or disrespectful. As Gizmodo’s Bryan Lufkin and Jezebel’s Dodai Stewart noticed, people don’t just take selfies in front of others’ tragedy, but in front of their own harrowing moments. There are many legitimate reasons: Sometimes it’s to assert strength in times of crisis, sometimes it’s to emotionally process tragedy, sometimes it’s to tell friends and family you made it through.

Remember that not all of this will come through to the strangers who happen upon your photos. And it doesn’t give you a free pass to disrupt someone’s sacred space. So before you take pictures at a memorial or a place of worship, consider how it will affect the people around you. If you’re unsure, ask a representative of the site. And if you take a chance, be prepared to explain yourself to the internet.


  • I don’t care if people take selfies, I myself when travelling take some because they are inherently a bad photo but due to the nature of a selfie can be better than trying to get someone else to take a picture of you at a location.
    That said, I found it strange the amount of people that were taking selfies at the World Trade Center site. “Here I am smiling next to the foot print of tower 1!” Like it was just an odd thing to want a selfie in front of in my opinion.

  • Taking selfies at sites where historic disasters/mass suffering occurred is one thing – taking them at sites where followers of an invisible friend congregate is another. I say let them be offended.

  • Selfie photos typically look like crap.
    Travel with as friend or spouse, take their photo, let them take yours.

    You can fit a whole body in frame. with no arms out to one side holding sticks (or even remote shutter controls). Group shots, kneeling in prayer at that shrine / temple, etc. and you even have someone sharing the experience with you.

    • You need someone who can take pictures though. I have travelled a lot, with partners, in tour groups and solo. 99% of people can not take a damn picture.

      Yeah posed pictures, kneeling are one of those things where people can maybe take a decent one. However with out a gimmick, the old, take a picture of me in front of… people can’t compose a decent picture. Balance a picture of you and the back ground.

      Machu Picchu, I have a bunch of pictures of me. Almost all are terrible. Except for some selfies and a couple pictures some random took of me. No one in the tour group could take a picture, neither most randoms.

      Yet I went to Egypt with someone who can take pictures and have an endless supply of amazing shots of me at places.

      I have an ex and she took lots of great gimmicky shots of me, nose to nose with statues in Asia. Yet every pic that isn’t one of them is shit. Weird perspective angles at me. Bad compositions and so forth.

      Selfies though, yeah the arms everywhere is shit. However the inherent style of a selfie can be better. I had about 50 shots of me taken on top of a Mayan temple where they filmed a view for Star Wars. The only picture that is cool, captures me at the view is a go pro selfie stick.

      You can take a picture of someone. Tell them to take the same picture of you and they can’t do it. Ideas such as framing, zoom, moving themselves are things that most people don’t consider.

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