Ira Israel: Life, the Photo-Op

03/13/2015 04:40 pm ET | Updated Aug 27, 2016

Recently, photography has become almost as widely practiced an amusement as sex and dancing - which means that, like every mass art form, photography is not practiced by most people as art. It is mainly a social rite, a defense against anxiety, and a tool of power.

~ Susan Sontag, "On Photography," 1977

Of late I have seldom been in a social situation - even yoga and meditation classes! - that was immune from being captured for all to see throughout the universe in perpetuity via Facebook and Instagram.


Way back in the previous century, I recall shooting - somewhat noisily - photographs on 35mm celluloid film. Thirty or forty centimes per photo after developing added up quickly and made me think twice before clicking. But now a 64 gig IPhone 6 can hold 3,000 photos so it literally costs nothing to snap indiscriminately.

But what are we doing when we turn social gatherings into photo opportunities? (cf. Baudrillard's "Simulacra and Simulation")

It feels as if many of my peers - myself included - who are on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are on some relentless quest for social status.




I have fantasized about creating an app that scores people's social statuses by the photos they post on Facebook and Instagram. It would work something like this:

*Photo of you eating in a nice restaurant: 5 points

*Photo of you with gorgeous friends having a good time in a nice restaurant: 10 points

*Photo of you with someone famous eating in a nice restaurant: 15 points

*Photo of you with someone really really rich eating in a nice restaurant: 20 points

*Photo of you in an exotic location: 25 points (double points for war zones, outer space, and the Governor's Ball or Vanity Fair party after the Academy Awards)

*Photo of you with gorgeous friends in an exotic location: 30 points (double points for war zones, outer space, and the Governor's Ball or Vanity Fair party after the Academy Awards)

*Photo of you with someone famous in an exotic location: 35 points (double points for war zones, outer space, and the Governor's Ball or Vanity Fair party after the Academy Awards)

*Photo of you with someone really really rich in an exotic location: 40 points (double points for war zones, outer space, and the Governor's Ball or Vanity Fair party after the Academy Awards)

Of course the definitions of "nice restaurant" "exotic location" "gorgeous friends" "famous" and "really rich" are relative to myriad factors; thus there would be several levels of "nice" "exotic" "gorgeous" "famous" and "rich" and each would be scored accordingly.

During the night all of your social media from the previous day would be analyzed and scored and you would know exactly where you stand in comparison with your fellow human beings when you woke up the next morning.

Sounds like fun - doesn't it?!

Wait... is this not exactly what we are all doing in some way???

90% of the time I am approached at a speaking engagement people start talking about something they have seen in my utterly fabulous and apparently glamorous virtual life - "Oh I saw you were in Paris!" "Oh I saw you were with Deepak Chopra!" - which represents exactly 1% of the life that I, Ira Israel, actually lead. There are no photos of me treating patients or sitting alone in my underwear behind an electronic device preparing for my next Esalen workshop (occasionally taking breaks to discuss Baudrillard and Žižek with my cat Hélène); there is only the end result of fifty radiating people whose nourished bodies and souls beam at you from my glorious Facebook page.

And since when did doctors, lawyers, psychotherapists - hell, everyone - need headshots? I thought headshots were things celebrities signed with Sharpies at Comic-Con, not for professionals like me.

Last week my friend and colleague Theo Kyriakos casually and not-so-subtly informed me that I was in need of a new headshot. Although I know an entire coterie of adult yogis and yoginis who spend much of their lives playing "dress-up" and going to the beach at sunset for "photo shoots," I have not sat for a portrait since my bar-mitzvah and the mere thought of posing with an expansive cheesy "I'm so fabulous!" grin flooded my consciousness like a bad acid flashback.

Nonetheless Theo and I went outside to his backyard last week and one out of the seventy photos he snapped managed to capture a simulacra of me appearing somewhat content with my existence on planet earth.
Photo by Theo Kyriakos

It is a pleasant photo and I am somewhat bizarrely proud that I was able to muster a smile in such a contrived situation with someone yelling "Smile! Will you smile for godssakes?!" at me.

You realize, of course, that although it cost nothing to take said photo it will require thousands of dollars in therapy for two adult male heterosexual psychotherapists to process playing "dress up" and "photo shoot." The homoeroticism notwithstanding, Theo is Greek so half of what he says is Greek to me anyways, which is why I have no idea what he really meant when he shouted "Smile!" at me. :-)

And no it's not a Rolex; it's a Swatch.

When I look at any page on the Internet - from a news organization, blogger, Facebook, any website - my first thought is, "What are they selling?"

For me and most of my fellow healthcare professionals we have been forced to create "brands" and try to distinguish ourselves and our "statuses" from our peers: Ira Israel - Ivy League educated Psychotherapist and Mindful Living Expert, 4 DVDs, 3 graduate degrees, 2 licenses, and a partridge in a pear tree...

The irony is that in my workshops I teach authenticity and yet I am forced to market these classes in a virtual reality that not only engenders but rewards inauthenticity.

Funny - isn't it?

Smile! Big Flash!

Now please Tweet this!