The monkey selfie

Above: a photo which is supposed to be a "selfie" taken by an Indonesian Celebes crested macaque. Credit: Public domain.

Monkey Disputes Selfie

The debates around the copyright status of the monkey selfie rage on interminably (SOED: with no prospect of an end; tediously long or habitual). Can a living monkey be bestowed copyright rights over a photo it has taken? Etc. For me the issue with the monkey selfie is not: Who owns the rights to the photo? But: Who took the photo? Photographer-researcher David Slater claims he handed a camera to the monkey, but there is absolutely no evidence within the photo itself that it is actually a selfie. The photo is subject to the Principal Rule of Images Found on the World Wide Web: undecidability. A photo may show what it purports to show, or it may not--there is no way of knowing for certain. As James Graham Ballard noted, "we're living in an era when nothing is true and nothing is untrue." The weakness of the monkey selfie is that the photo could easily have been faked. A human could easily have been holding up the camera for the monkey to gaze into and/or could easily have been enhancing-augmenting the moment of simian self-recognition. The Law of Undecidability is most frustrating for those who have a photo that actually is authentic. Working out how to "handle" this frustration is basic to photo-image culture today. Independent verification is one route. But how reliable is the endorser? Has the validating entity been duped, hoaxed? For the freelance photographer it's always you against the machine, and the machine wins. The machine (the Internet) places a "disputed" boilerplate message over any-and-every image. Just like the truism agreed by all in casino gambling: the house always wins.

(12 May 2018)