Carrying Water, 1991

Filtered Selfie

Today’s guest blogger, Carrie Wagner, is a presenter at the October 2014 Melibee Swarm.  This post will give you a sense of her 2 hour workshop, co-facilitated by artist Todd Drake. 

Culture, identity, perspective. Past, present, future.  Who I am? Who was I? Who will I become?  Who do I think I am? Who do you think I am? What’s my story? What’s your story? What’s our history? Depends on who tells it. There are no absolutes, only portrayals of our perceptions, what we care about, and what we hope for.

Seeking our own truths, finding connections with others, and attaching meaning to our experiences; these culminate the essence of sojourning. We journey as travelers of course, but not only. We journey at home, in different settings,

Carrying Water, 1991
Carrying Water, Uganda, 1991

through different stages of life and circumstances. Some of the paths are carefully chartered, while others unfold organically. The fluidity of this type of sojourning is freeing for some, yet distressing for others. On the backside of every significant life experience is a change in perspective – perhaps a new cultural identity, but certainly an appreciation for others and their challenges.

Where have you journeyed? Who have you identified with? What’s your worldview? What are your cultural filters?

When we share and discuss our cultural filters, we gain a heightened awareness that what we see in ourselves and in others, may in fact be two different things. Yet, the connection of human spirit can supersede the discomfort of diverse perspectives. That is a beautiful thing.

How do you share your stories and perspectives?

I am a photographer. For over 30 years I have explored life through a camera lens and shared my stories and perspectives through visual imagery. I have connected with strangers and loved ones alike – through many different channels – but most powerfully, through my photographs.

These days we are all photographers.

Subway Selfie, New York City, 2014

We document our lives and share our stories with a world of viewers known and unknown to us. What are we communicating through our digital media? 2013 was the year of the selfie, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. The art of self-portraiture has taken on a new role in mainstream culture, with millions being snapped, chatted, tweeted and face-booked daily. Why the obsession with projecting images of ourselves for the whole world to see? I do it too. Perhaps my innocent desire to show my friends where I am and what I’m doing at any point in time, could be interpreted through an array of cultural filters that communicate something entirely different. I found this Huffington Post article interesting, as it speaks to the popularity and unpopularity of overposting selfies.

To some extent, all of our photographs are “selfies;” they reflect something about us – our environment, our interests, our attractions, our disturbances, our sense of humor, our sense of art, our intentions, our cultural identities…our perspectives. How can we tell our stories and the stories of others with authenticity, respect, and purpose? How do we interpret others’ stories? What value or judgment do we place on the stories others choose to share?

Shaping and sharing stories; composing and creating life portraits; connecting through photography; this is how I best explore culture, identity and perspective.

About the Author: Carrie Wagner is an author, professional photographer, educator, and seasoned cross-cultural trainer. She has lived abroad several times including Uganda, South Africa, Peru and Ecuador. Carrie is the author and photographer of the book Village Wisdom: Immersed in Uganda, Inspired by Job, Changed for Life. She is also a Melibee Global speaker. Carrie is co-facilitating a two hour workshop at the Melibee Swarm in October 2014. Check out her website here.


  1. Good piece, but no matter how the term is redefined it seems that the idealism that started in the 60’s movements related to “identity” was just the beginning of an endless stream of narcissism without end. When does the “naval-gazing” end and the eye become more concerned with the outside world, with empathy for others? I just do not see the “selfie” in any definition becoming more of an opening to the world as opposed to a form of self-congratulatory closure.

    As my late father noted, “All We Need is Love” was one of the Beatles’ biggest spoofs of our narcissistic culture, and that predates Vine, and the millions of other ways of self-referential expression, etc.

    Yes, an unpopular stance to take these days…but I just wish the sharing and shaping of stories was more collective than individualistic moments dominated by posing hipsters. Wish the trends were otherwise, that the sense of community was the primary source of the desire to document itself.

    Fortunately, there are cultures less tainted around the world where the sense of community remains strong, and often such communities are less consumed by photos of themselves than the ritual enactment of life beyond individual moments of self-reflection..

    • Carrie Wagner says:


      Thanks for your insights. I concur with your feelings about egocentric cultures, reflected through the documentation of life, self, and congratulatory efforts. The session that Todd Drake and I are presenting at the SWARM is a twist on the word “selfie.” We will be shaping and sharing stories that reflect our cultural DNA – the life experiences that have shaped our cultural values and beliefs. As an American who has lived 7 years out of my home country, I share your repulsion to the narcissistic approach to crossing cultures and documenting stories. Over 20 years, I have been most gratified by empowering others to share their stories, their hopes and dreams, and their connection to the human spirit which supersedes cultural gaps. Thank you for chiming in on this topic.

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