“NASHVILLE — Not quite halfway through the new season of HBO’s “The White Lotus,” a young woman, Portia, breaks into tears at breakfast. She is staying at a luxury resort in Sicily as the personal assistant of one of the wealthy guests. While her tablemate, a true vacationer, takes smiling selfies with the shining Ionian Sea in the background, Portia glances across the terrace at her despairing employer. “Is everything boring?” she asks, her voice quivering.
Portia’s problem is only partly the obscene wealth to which she exists in permanent adjacency. As her breakfast companion’s cheerful self-portraits suggest, she is at also odds with her era: “I just feel like there must’ve been a time when the world had more, you know? Like mystery or something,” she says. “And now you come somewhere like this, and it’s beautiful, and you take a picture, and then you realize that everybody’s taking that exact same picture from that exact same spot and you’ve just made some redundant content for stupid Instagram.”
This is the cry of anyone in Portia’s generation who is paying attention. It should be the cry of everybody else, too. With the advent of the self-facing camera, the human world turned in fundamental ways.
“The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera,” the great documentary photographer Dorothea Lange often said. That was surely true of Ms. Lange, whose iconic photographs of Depression-era migrants and urban bread lines captured the beauty as well as the profound anguish of the period.”