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COLUMN: No, Mona Lisa doesn’t want to be in your selfie



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Tourists take photos of "Mona Lisa" at the Louvre Museum in Paris. Brielle Saggese Buy Photos

Monday morning classes are a little different here in Paris. Whereas I used to roll out of bed and sprint to Ballantine Hall, this Monday I swiped my metro pass and headed for the Louvre.

It was our first art history class of the semester – the packed Italian Renaissance wing as our classroom, the stunning Jacques-Louis David as our subject matter. 

Expertly zigzagging around tourists, our professor made her way through the mosh pit as we struggled to chase after her.

That is, until the incident. A classmate, spotting one Miss Mona Lisa, craned her iPhone overhead to snap a selfie. And my professor, spotting said selfie, gave us our first lesson:

“That shouldn’t interest us.”

I only wish she had said it louder for the iPhone cameras in the back. Actually, I wish she had said it loud enough for just one person to hear – my mother.

My family travels a lot together, which I love. What I’m not so crazy about are my mother’s travel photos. 

She’ll first spot the crowd – wherever there’s a crowd, a Kodak moment must be near. Then she’ll come out with her favorite phrase, “OK now kids, get together...”

Take a look at our photo albums, and you’ll see my same travel-photo-smile in front of Mount Rushmore, on top of the Sydney Harbor Bridge and (after my mom’s visit next week) next to the Mona Lisa.

But as bad as the My-Mom-Told-Me-To-Stand-In-Front-Of-This-Painting Photo, another museum photo might be even worse. This of course would be the Point-And-Keep-Shooting.

In this case, the photographer, often wielding a Canon point and shoot, will spot the Mona Lisa from across the exhibit. Instinctively, he takes a photo.

But because poor Miss Mona Lisa is still too far away, he gets closer. This time it’s just the Canon and Mona. He takes a second shot – success!

Next, because he cares so much about art, he’ll take a third shot of the painting’s description on the wall. Lastly, he’ll flip the Canon around for its grand finale – a good-old fashioned ’90s selfie.

Sometimes I’ll see Point-And-Keep-Shooting man and wonder if four months from now he’ll dig through his camera roll to find his one blurry photo of the Mona Lisa wall description. Sometimes I wonder about asking him what kind of hard drive storage he'd recommend. 

But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the most iconic type of museum photo of all. As I’ve been upping my French vocabulary this semester, my favorite term I’ve learned from this country is “les insta-girls,” which I’m assuming doesn’t need translation.

The term is plural because typically the photographers travel in packs, as if contractually bound to always be available for an Instagram opportunity. Here at the Louvre, they spotted my favorite Delacroix and took turns standing in front of it with one leg elongated in front of the others.

If I were a good Samaritan, I would have advised them to choose a different painting. This one depicted a king, who after realizing he was going to be overthrown, set his horses on fire and murdered his various love interests. 

Maybe they were going for a darker aesthetic – I won’t judge.

But despite my many qualms and even my professor’s strict lesson, what did I do after class that day? I took a picture of Mona, of course.  

Sometimes, you just can’t resist.

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