me + Richard Armitage fan selfies: musings on self, presence, and the proximity question, a beginning

This is what’s on my mind today — because it ties together some things that have been pestering me for a while. It’s a difficult post to write on many levels, but please keep the following in mind.

Preface / caveats / qualifications

1. I am writing about pictures of Richard Armitage with fans, and my reactions to them. While I have to touch on other themes I make no assertions as to them. The claims I am making here concern only what I read in pictures and how I react to my reading of them, pondering the reasons why.

2. I don’t expect a ton of nods on this because the pieces of it that I have chatted about privately with people have produced a fair amount of incomprehension, except in one or two notable cases. One of them is my friend FilmProf, whom I reference below.

3. Nothing in this post should be construed to imply that I believe Richard Armitage to have been actively coerced in any way against his to appear in selfies with fans either previously or up until now. (I know there are some fans who insist he doesn’t want to do this but [beyond the possibility that he might be asked at an inconvenient time] I’ve found no credible evidence of any general philosophical or personal objection to it, nor of a possibility that Armitage believes himself to be abused beyond normal wear-and-tear by this practice. (Yes, there are elements of every career that its practitioners like more or less, and this is standard.)

4. Nothing in this post should be construed to imply any criticism of fellow fans who pursue opportunities to meet Armitage personally in venues like this (the lobby of 92Y), legally and consensually obtain photographs of themselves with Armitage, have conversations with him, or publish reports of those encounters. I support their activities and rejoice with them.

5. For the purpose of a discussion, I’m going to call a picture of a fan with Richard Armitage requested by the fan in which both fan and Armitage are the subject of the photograph a “fan selfie” (whether Armitage, the fan, or a third party takes it), mostly because that’s briefer than “a candid photo of Armitage with fans requested by a fan,” but also because I think the term “selfie” encapsulates important qualities of the motivation for the image.

6. A final difficulty is created by the fact that these are pictures are mostly of Richard Armitage with people I don’t know. I’ve chosen not to repost those photos here for various reasons. Please follow the links as provided in order to see the photos.


I. Historical narrative: Obtaining selfies in the context of fan encounters with Armitage

Richard Armitage’s fans, like those of many other artists, have regularly cultivated the ambition not only to enjoy his performances, but also to observe him at work, or to meet him personally, however briefly. In the first years of the organized fandom after late 2004, fans documented such experience by requesting pictures of themselves with Armitage when they found him, photos in which Armitage’s expression always seemed agreeable. When such photos emerged, they usually did so on fan forums, often in company with a report of the encounter. These reports painted a consistent general picture of Armitage as friendly, kind, unassuming, polite, interested in talking to the fan, however briefly, and willing to be photographed. On the forums, photos could be viewed only by members of the group and were frequently labeled with requests not to share the photo or the report beyond the confines of the group itself. These rules were not always obeyed but the general size of the fandom and the fact that people knew each other worked to enforce them.

Before July 2012, many fewer candid photos of Richard Armitage with fans circulated for general consumption on the web than afterwards because determining when and where he could be met wasn’t easy. The location of the Robin Hood set was known, and a few images of Armitage with fans visiting the set surfaced during that period, although I’ve been told that fans at the time debated vociferously whether it was acceptable to plan to try to meet him in this way. Fan meetings and pictures with Armitage continued to remain an isolated pleasure in proportion to the number of people who might have liked to have them. If I understand correctly, one of the first mass opportunities to see Armitage at work or meet him was the taping of the studio portions of Vicar of Dibley late in 2006, but with the exception those with tickets, most fans who came did not succeed in doing so. A bevy of staffers collected items brought with hopes of obtaining his signature in garbage bags to pass on to him. After that, fans in London sometimes found out where Spooks was filming, or stumbled across it accidentally, and obtained photos; a fan or two who had a friend who worked on set smuggled her in. Armitage indicated at least once (while filming at Wandsworth for Spooks 9) that if he knew fans had been waiting a long time in hope, he would go out to meet them. The most likely opportunities to meet Armitage and get the treasured photo were probably the BAFTA red carpets at which Armitage appeared in 2007, 2009, and 2010, where he chatted with fans in the waiting areas and signed books, drawings, pictures and other items and leaned into pictures. Other possibilities were offered by scheduled media interviews, with fans awaiting at arrival and departure points outside of studios to catch a glimpse and hopefully an autograph or photo. A few other chances followed — such as the Old Vic 24 Hour Plays in 2010, where one could purchase a ticket to an after party for cast and patrons of the event — and the Captain America premieres in Los Angeles and New York in July, 2011, where he showed himself as very friendly to fans whether encountered on the red carpet or off it. Though Armitage never showed any sign of reluctance or anger in regard to these meetings or other more spontaneous ones that made it into Armitageworld, some fans insisted as late as the summer of 2012 that Armitage wanted to avoid such encounters, a trope that I called “I want to be left alone Armitage.”

This position in the form it had been articulated up until then became untenable when the true caesura came in this regard came in July 2012, not because it was impossible to obtain a fan selfie before then, but because suddenly, the possibility to do so became so much greater. First, it was possible for quite a number of fans to encounter Armitage on location for (then) Black Sky (now) Into the Storm, either by appearing in the right place at the time, or through the auspices of contacts working on the film. Armitage was so apparently friendly and prepared to meet fans that it made me wonder if he was responding demonstratively to the insistence of some fans that he emphatically did not want to be met. (Again, however, fans debated whether it was legitimate [or should even be possible] to visit a working set.) More importantly, after that summer, not only could fans plan to visit officially scheduled and announced venues for actor/fan encounters (like ComicCon, or Hobbit film premiere events), the highly increased number of publicity events such as press conferences, bookstore appearances, signings, and radio and television interviews drastically multiplied even the number of less predictable events where he could be viewed going and coming. We were even able to speculate about whether Armitage would participate in the common practice at fan conventions of selling a photo opportunity, again with opinions divided.

In roughly the last year, then, the potential for a meeting with Armitage and thus the desired fan selfie has exploded; and with it my opportunity for thinking about this issue.

Like all of us, I have seen a lot more fan selfies since the summer of 2012 because there were so many more to be shared. Moreover, after The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the fandom that I perceive became noticeably younger and populated by a segment of comrades who have very different attitudes toward picture sharing than my generation has. As photo-friendly social media like facebook emerged, and cell phones came to comprise internal cameras, the practice of taking relatively casual candid photos like the selfie spread, and attitudes toward the appropriateness of sharing them started to shift. I’ve always enjoyed seeing them. In particular, it was neat when someone I actually knew did it — that made it even more special, somehow. (It didn’t hurt that she managed a phone closeup of the shoes he was wearing for me, either.) Much later, a fellow fan of ours, since deceased, would argue that when Armitage met one of us it was the same as if he met all of us, and I’ve always felt the emotional weight of that sentiment when I see pictures from these encounters. A certain amount of jealousy over these encounters, especially when they occur in countries where Armitage is not likely to travel again soon, has been apparent to insiders; sometimes I hear about these discussions and other times I don’t, but I think I’ve been protected from that particular emotional fallout because of my ongoing reluctance to meet Armitage in person (something I wrote about here but need to readdress because I think it’s deepened in the context of the last week or so).

II. My source context for thinking about fan selfies

If I thought about these photos at all, up until then, it was usually to look for Armitage’s mood in them. Did he show signs of unhappiness or displeasure? (That’s my biggest identity issue around Armitage). I only ever found one where I thought his jaw was clenched in something that could be annoyance, a candid of him taken by a fan that had found its way out of the Spooks 7 set and which I was shown under condition that I not share it with anyone, although I’ve seen the same image elsewhere since. The second thing then was usually to look at his appearance. I remember thinking at some point that it was unusual that these pictures of him were so uniformly good. Most people don’t take exclusively effective looking selfies; occasionally they look distracted, or they blink or something. I assumed it was because people took several pictures and sorted out the poor ones.

But I can pinpoint the point at which I started thinking about the problem of the fan selfie as a performance for Armitage — it occurred after July 13, 2013, when he appeared at the Wellington premiere for The World’s End. I can’t give an exact date because I chose to archive the moment on tumblr. But these were the images I saw.

tumblr_mpx5e0n3j21qlhck1o1_250 tumblr_mpx5e0n3j21qlhck1o2_r1_250Richard Armitage poses with unidentified fan for “fan selfie,” July 13, 2013. Source: thorinium

I looked at these for a long time — the tendency they provoke to prolonged, indeed minute-long examination is one of my issues with animated GIFs, I think they sometimes overfocus viewer attention in odd ways, and I’ve been wanting to write a post about watching Richard Armitage via this particular medium for quite a while — and then I thought to look at the original source, which was a New Zealand 3news report about the premiere, here (this very brief part appears about 1:12f). You’ll have to look at both the GIF above and the vid, I think, to get the context. Armitage is being drawn over under the arm of a fan to pose. It looks to me like he’s being asked if he’ll take a picture with the fan, that he agrees willingly, as a matter of course, that he lowers his head just slightly, briefly, adjusting his body in relationship to the fan who’s moving his arm, then raises his again in preparation to pose for the photo. It’s interesting to query what exactly the vibe is, here, for Armitage. Practiced in the genre? Putting up with something he has had to do repeatedly? Genuinely pleased to be making the fan happy? There are moments that point to all of these things.

What did the GIFs suggest to me? For one thing, they called to mind something I’d thought occasionally before about Armitage on red carpets — he plants one foot forward (he does this in some roles, as well) and protrudes his chin, as here (there’s a better example from this same evening, a Getty images video made at the BAFTA Strike Back premiere in April 2010, I am pretty sure, but I can’t find it at the moment):

That is to say, the “fan selfie” is a variation on a kind of pose he’s been making for years.

Second, it made me wonder about the extent to which the “fan selfie” creates the impression of temporariness, of spontaneity, of immediacy, through the image of the fan, even as it is the product of a particular kind of practiced, very smooth employment of the body, the features and the controlled emotions of the actor. Obviously our perception of this duality will differ based on the context and features we identify any in any image but the problem intrigues me and it does something to explain my reaction to the photos that I saw this last week.

Continues here.

~ by Servetus on January 21, 2014.

29 Responses to “me + Richard Armitage fan selfies: musings on self, presence, and the proximity question, a beginning”

  1. I’ve had two photographers tell me I’m a poser. I didn’t know how to take that but I was happy with the pictures and was later told that some people have a knack for posing and it’s not a bad thing. Are we saying Armitage is a poser? And he has been forever and he’s just acting in the selfies too? I’m probably way off but it’s your fault… never seen that gif before.
    I really miss the beard. Terribly. And that, is a tall fan.


    • I think everybody who’s aware of being photographed poses for pictures (at least a little). When I was a kid I was always getting yelled at for closing my eyes in response to a flash so I try very hard to keep my eyes open — although, to be perfectly honest, I try very hard to stay out of all photographs. It’s not so much a question of him posing or *not* posing, although yes, he has been posing forever. The morphology of the pose does interest me in the sense of me wondering what he’s doing in it, what he might seek to achieve. But the whole series will be more about how I react to that particular pose, which we’ve seen a ton of examples of the last week or so.


  2. We haven’t even gotten to the really interesting bits yet and my mind is already swirling. I am looking forward to where this is going (especially once we wander past the question of celebrity participation in fan selfies) in terms of the construction of identity through self-portraiture. At least I assume that you will touch on that, too.
    As for the stance (one foot forward, protruding chin) – an animal in flight? Readiness to escape or to attack, or rather: signalling a readiness to leave? Or only a comfortable way of standing, relaxing one leg? Presumably also looking better on anyone rather than the straight-on, erect stance.


    • It was a long preface because I had to set up the genealogy of my reaction to seeing these photos — when you’ve been a fan this long there’s always a “long tail” to trace.

      The stance — I think there’s something about looking forceful / masculine; it also reduces his height slightly so his head is more at the height of the other artists in the picture (I believe myself to see this fairly often in candids — he does things to fit himself into the frame). The chin — I think it also has to do with masculinity, appearing strong, maybe a bit of seeing some candids of himself and realizing that he wants to maximize the chin as opposed to the flesh under his chin.

      And yeah, I think there’s an element of energizing self-talk here –dealing with a potentially wearying task by addressing it head on with good will.


  3. My fave photo of him ever remains the selfie with the little girl at the BAFTAs.


  4. I spent a good deal of time at the event wondering “Do I want a selfie?” I figured my front camera on my phone isn’t the best and I knew Richard would really have to lean to get me in frame (haha! short people problems) So I decided on having a friend do it, to spare his neck and back and to get a better picture.


  5. Loved your take on the Armitage pose performance. That gif was a great illustration. And I think anyone would get tired of having to pose for pictures all the time. But most of the various venue accounts that I have read is that RA poses with and for fans graciously.

    I loved seeing all the fan pictures this week, too. I especially love that though some fans demurred at having their picture taken with him at the Pinter/PROUST after event–wanting to only take his picture–that they shared that RA cajoled them into being in the picture with them, saying something about only taking a picture of him like “where’s the fun in that?”

    And then I think about the charming picture that RAlover shared about their visit to the Into the Storm Michigan set (named Black Sky then) –of RA hugging a fan face to face, his chin leaning over the shoulder, his eyes closed, and a sweet expression of shy cheerfulness on his face. He looked transcendently happy. A ha! Found it:

    in one of your posts:

    When your job has a component of being in the public eye–as RA’s does–it is delightful that he maintains his sincerity of graciousness. Because there are ample examples of stars who can’t be bothered to be either gracious or sincere. RA is a class act.


    • see caveat 3 above, I do not believe he is doing this against his will.

      I differ strongly on the cajoling people into pictures, but that will come out in the next piece. I don’t expect many people to agree.

      re: Armitage’s expression, not to rain on your parade, but don’t most people close their eyes when they hug? I think it’s instinctive reaction to that level of proximity to the other person.


      • We’ll just have to agree to disagree on some points. And that’s okay. It’s all subjective. Cheers!


        • Actually, it’s *not* all subjective. Certain aspects of the question are subjective — the perception of the viewer — but others are not: the content of the picture, the subject position of the subject of the picture, and so on. For instance, I may perceive Armitage to be posing and you may not, but he is either posing or not posing. Our positions could be subjective with relation to each other (in that we observe from different positions) but not with regard to our own positions themselves (what I write is either an accurate representation of my perception, or not). If you don’t want to talk about the relative weighting of data, that’s fine, but not every aspect of this question is subjective. Saying “it’s all subjective” is a quick way to turn off discussion by saying opinions don’t matter.


          • Dear Servetus,
            Your last sentence in your remarks above is the key. Other people’s opinions do matter–yours, mine, and others. That was my point.
            Cheers! Grati ;->


            • Actually, not universally. My opinion and yours have nothing necessary to do with what Richard Armitage is actually thinking. Some things are subjective, others are not. You can see, he looks blissful, I can say, most people close their eyes when they hug, but Richard Armitage’s motivation is not a matter of subjective judgment. It is what it is, objectively.


              • And RA’s motivation is not something we as fans will necessarily know. Even when RA shares some of his thoughts and feelings in interviews, we have to assume that–like any of us–he might be reserving his full thoughts for himself or to relate at another time. Maybe he will write his autobiography years from now and fans will have an “a ha” moment. Or maybe, he will keep some things private.


                • but “not known” is not the same as “subjective.” I don’t know the full value of pi to the last digit or even to the twentieth digit, but the last digit cannot be known because there is no last digit, and the twentieth digit exists although I do not know what it is. Armitage might see that picture and remember what he was doing — and that’s not subjective. Presumably he knows his own mind, even though I do not. His statement of what he was doing would then not be subjective, even though my perception (and description of it, see below) would be.


            • I could also add — the whole question of what a frame of a photo captures — which piece of an expression — is highly individual. The photo could have been capturing him while he was blinking, for instance. That, too, is objective. We may not be able to describe it absolutely, but what it captures is not really a matter of my opinion or your opinion.


              • Describing a picture–someone blinking, what they’re wearing, etc.–is different from “interpreting” it.


                • No. Every description is an interpretation from the standpoint of the describer. There is no description that of a picture that is objective. That, however, does not mean that everything described is only a matter of subjective description.


  6. I had many selfies when I was in my 20’s – but now I really wonder how I managed to get to the things I did at that time. I couldn’t do it anymore but, I guess, over the time my personal view changed (not that I would have become any wiser) and I rather enjoy reading these fantastic stories and see the pictures.

    Many people don’t like their pictures taken, they think they just don’t look good in them. So, they learn how to pose in pictures … I did and why not RA, too? Maybe he sometimes has to force himself to an acceptable picture although he is tried, frustrated, upset, sad, exhausted … no one can know what kind of day he has or what he is going through at that moment – yet he’s a pro and he knows people come to see and meet him. If his fans are polite and behave themselves why should he hesitate to meet them? That wouldn’t be fair.

    But sometimes he struck me as a person who doesn’t want to be in the centre of attention, that he feels kind of uncomfortable if people make a fuss over him. Of course, this is what I cannot know for sure.

    I understand it must be frustrating/exhausting for a celeb to meet fans all the time, to put up a friendly smile and be polite. But celebrities forget – in my opinion – compared to them, it’s a one-timer for the single fan.

    Thank you for the new food for thought, Servetus, and hi!


    • Thanks for the comment, and welcome!

      pls see caveat 3 above, I do not believe that he is doing this against his will, also my comment in reply to CarlyQ. Of course everyone poses. Also, everyone has aspects of their job they like more or less and probably most successful professionals have realized that doing things with cheer make them easier. That said, I need to establish that he clearly is posing for the next piece of my argument.

      Actually, I don’t think celebs forget that it’s a one-timer for the average fan. I can’t see any other reason why they’d be so (relatively) cheerful about it. They know they’re giving someone a once in a lifetime experience and they must either accept that, feel good about it, or even just know it’s important to their reputation. That doesn’t mean they’re obliged to fulfill every fan’s casual request but I’m sure they have some idea of what’s in a fan’s mind.


  7. Looking at the video I do see what you mean or at least I think I do. For me I’d say it depends on who is making the move. At the play from what was said by many he was in a good mood and actually initiated some photo ops with a lot of good fun. I agree though that no one, even a celebrity is “on” all the time and depending on how a fan behaves it can be a chore rather than something enjoyed. I look forward to the rest of this piece. I am not at all good with taking photos. I wish I were. I don’t like having my photo taken because I don’t photograph well and I’m not comfortable with it but then I’m not famous and it isn’t part of my job. Sometimes for Richard I’m sure it is a job and no matter how much we’d like to think he always enjoys it, that just isn’t true.


    • Yeah, again, this post isn’t about whether it’s okay [IMO it is], or how he feels about it [I don’t know but I would guess that his reactions vary but that he is not in principle hostile to the experience]. I’m establishing a history of the question so I can talk about how *I* feel about it. 🙂


  8. […] has been thinking about something like this as well HERE. Of course, her exploration is about how she feels looking at Armitage engaging with fans, not […]


  9. […] My mind is much too dirty to use the word “selfie” and not giggle, but I tried not to be so childish as I read about the Armitage selfies […]


  10. […] from here. Please keep in mind the caveats / assumptions / definitions articulated there, plus these […]


  11. […] felt different than it does now. As I’ve noted, fan encounters with Richard Armitage were (comparatively) scarce. They were often discussed behind the passwords; the individual fan communities for various […]


  12. […] to meet and be photographed with Armitage insofar as these occur in accepted venues. I hope that my extensive discussion of the selfie question, though unfinished, substantiates that point for anyone still in doubt. But I was always, always […]


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