There are three types of photobombers: 1) jerks 2) modern day flaneurs, aka artists-poets of the metropolis 3) people who think they have more friends than they actually do. But let’s not talk about the third type because photobombing is sad when it’s unintentional.
Jerk photobombers aren’t really that bad either. Sure, in the pre-digital era, they could damn well ruin an expensive roll of film and leave you with absolutely no photographic evidence that you were perfectly happy once. There was no way to Photoshop them out of the pricey prints you made at Costco except with your own tears and a Sharpie. These days, given that everyone on the street seems to be an aspiring Terry Richardson with his iPhone and belief in his “raw” photography style, I’m all about jerks ruining the 87th photo taken by a gaggle of hipsters documenting their collective failure to understand irony over PBR. The jerk might not have the same intellectual approach to photobombing as the flaneur, but he made a back-handed peace sign and stuck his tongue between his fingers (still the best jerk move in photobombing) to remind you that you’re taking too many pictures of your apparent good time instead of actually bothering to have one. For that, I give mad props to the jerk photobomber, for he is a cultural critic, a notch above the crowd on the cultural scale and just a notch below true artists.
If the jerk tends to show his disdain for the photo-happy, self-obsessed generation by utilizing sign language equivalents of profanities, the flaneur photobomber cultivates a unique photobombing character, which he unleashes poetically across town. It could be a signature face or pose – but the key word is “signature”. What matters most is that the flaneur uses this pose or face in situations where it would appear out of context in relation to the intended subject matter of the photo. I have a friend who embodies the spirit of an early ’90s raver. If he notices a photo-in-the-making and there’s a bright light in the room or just the sun in the sky, he stares at the bright light and uses his entire body to dance toward it, hands in the air, like he’s high on ecstasy and he can’t get enough of that retina-frying glow. It’s hilarious and magical at the same time, and it tends to not necessarily ruin photos but to give them an element of discomfort that I quite enjoy. There’s an argument to be made here that he has removed the power from the photographer and become the puppet master of the scene himself. Unaware of the raver when he was taking the photo, the photographer must then ask himself, “Was I even really present?” or at the very least, “WTF?”
While variations on the raver should only be attempted by photobombers with a refined understanding of the art, an aspiring flaneur can start by selecting an abstract negative emotion — one that has clear dramatic range. Disgust is one of my personal favourites, but if you’re go-getter enough to pick a complicated one like “betrayal” then we should obviously be best friends. Make like your Meryl Streep and you’re ready to show Jennifer Lawrence who’s boss come award season as you use that emotion to fuel the best facial expressions and body language you can think of whenever you see a photo worth bombing. The best part about a negative emotion is that you can use it from any distance. Even if you’re photobombing from 10 feet away from the intended subject matter, a betrayal face will be just as powerful as if you were shoulder-to-shoulder with the unsuspecting tourists, families, lovers or wedding parties. In no time, you’ll be the “Where’s Waldo” of your city, a Facebook legend and a pioneer of new breed of flaneur in the iPhone era.
Aspiring flaneur photobombers sometimes make the mistake of adopting a signature pose or expression that could easily be confused for a gang sign or Zoolander impersonation. Much like the art of a grafitti, you don’t want to be the photobombing equivalent of the guy who just signs his name on everything. That’s vandalism, and you’re an artist. Commit to a character like a raver or disrupt the vibe of photos with your Oscar-worthy instant meltdowns. By taking the power of the image away from the photographer and becoming the true artist of the scene, you’ll be the 21st century equivalent of Marcel Duchamp. Your photobombs will be the Ready-Mades of the modern era, and art exhibits will one day be curated featuring your work. Or maybe you’ll just get beat up. Either way, at least you’ll be a hero of the Instagram era instead of just another sucker for it.