I … really like Instagram.
There. I said it.
Some of you may abhor this social photo app, especially since it integrated videos. As if it wasn’t bad enough already, right? Well, we wanted to start sharing some unique Instagram users with you that we love, and hear from you about the users you love to follow too.
This column isn’t necessarily about people who take really good photos and share them on Instagram — though, yes, most of them do. It’s about people who use Instagram in an interesting way, as a unique outlet: people who tell stories with their photos, people whose Instagram accounts have certain themes, and much, much more.
Instagram isn’t all cats and selfies and what you had for lunch — at least it shouldn’t be — sometimes, if we’re lucky, we get a peek inside the creative mind of some really awesome people.
And that’s what this column is about. We’re adding culture to your Instagram feed, one badass new Instagrammer at a time.
Today’s featured Instagram user is @thebrightdark, Jeremy Shawn Pair.
I had the chance to chat with Pair about his background and how his unique Instagram account got started. And his story is nothing less than great.
Pair had never studied photography before, though he did take one class with a bunch of soccer moms once. While they were posting macro photos of flowers, he was posting photos of dumpsters.
He even got a 35mm Pentax k1000 SLR about 10 years ago, but he never took it seriously. After all, his background wasn’t in photography, but creative writing. He had done some copywriting, stand up comedy where he wrote all of his own material, and he had always wanted to write a novel, but could never get past one or two chapters. He was all about short stories.
Pair ditched his first Instagram account and started @thebrightdark in September of 2012, beginning with 50 photos from earlier that summer. The #realpeopleinfictionalstories hashtag began in the summer of 2012, when Pair finally found his voice, his style, and incorporated his writing.
“I didn’t want everyone to see all the mistakes I made on my old account,” Pair said. I think we can all relate to that sometimes. Especially where social networks are concerned.
Pair used to play a little game in airports with his friends and coworkers. They would pick out a random person and say, “Okay, what about that guy? What’s his story?,” and go on to make a fictional story up about that real person.
So, one night, he had a couple of glasses of whiskey, posted a photo on @thebrightdark account, and, this time, decided to write about it. Something short.
This is where #realpeopleinfictionalstories came in.
The first photo
Oct. 7, 2012, the very first photo with a micro story was posted on @thebrightdark account. The photo was of a man, sitting on a patio at bar. The sun was setting, a girl was smoking, and another guy with a black eye was drinking. They were watching the sun go down. Pair imagined these characters had had a bad week. So watching the sunset wasn’t such a beautiful thing. Instead, “it was like watching their car burn.”
When he wrote that first whiskey-induced story, Pair thought, “Nobody will read this, it’s too long.” It wasn’t the short Instagram captions most of us are used to. But he wanted to combine creative writing with photography, so he went with it.
Soon after, if he didn’t have a story to go along with a photo, people would comment with, “Hey, where’s the story?” and these confessional micro stories became the norm.
“I felt like I couldn’t post without a story anymore. Because that’s what I was known for now,” Pair said.
Out of about 250 photos, only the last 150 have micro stories. Though the first set is still very much worth checking out, I think the stories really add to the vivid, color street photography.
The process and the apps
Like most, Pair never took the iPhone camera seriously. That is, not before he found other Instagrammers who posted some pretty awesome stuff.
The first being @emmii, who took some amazing photos with very dark backgrounds, but where the sunlight was just right. It was perfect. There were pictures in the street which were shot with Pro Camera to split exposure and focus.
Once Pair finally felt like he had control over the “iPhoneography” process, the apps got better, and the iPhone camera got better. And this is when he started taking it more seriously.
When Pair shot using 35mm film, he didn’t have anything to edit with, so he really liked the simplicity of the iPhone and all of the apps available for editing. It really streamlined the process.
Pair started his account using an iPhone 4, but has used an iPhone 5 for all of his photos since December of 2012. For a while after he got the iPhone 5, he actually didn’t use filters at all because the camera was so improved.
But the number one thing the photos must be? Straight. This is really important to him, and he uses Genius Scan to straighten his images.
“A lot of photographers use it, but won’t admit to using it,” Pair confessed. It’s really for documents, but you can use the cropping mechanism to straighten images as well.
Another app that Pair, and anyone trying to occupy the iPhoneography space, loves is VSCO Cam. He only uses it to add subtle fades, though, and sometimes for sharpening.
The entire process used to take Pair an entire hour to complete. Now, thanks to the iPhone and the ridiculous amount of photography apps, he has it down to seven minutes.
This Instagram project has helped Pair identify his style of writing.
I got rid of punctuation, except periods. If you don’t have constraints you tend to be all over the place.
He also noted that the photo inspires the story he writes.
If you’re meeting someone at a coffee shop, you’re walking there and thinking about life and then when you get to the shop, you open the door and you start thinking about the person you’re meeting. You forget your thoughts; they’re just gone. You’re distracted. And that introspective moment, that’s what I want the stories to be: introspective thoughts.
You’ve caught them off guard, pondering life. They’re very solitary, real thoughts. We all have these thoughts. Pair doesn’t create sci-fi or out-of-this-world wild stories, “I try to tell the truth, even though it’s fiction,” he said.
His favorite authors (like Nick Hornby) write true stories, and he’s the same way. That’s his goal: normal people, in a crappy situation, with an ending that somehow makes it better. It’s about taking life for granted.
The stories are just tension and release. Just like the stand-up he used to do.
That’s what’s exciting about it: It’s like going hunting. I might get something good, I might not. I’ll go out, but I don’t know what I’m going to get. I take the photos, and start thinking about them. I let the photos expound and inspire the story, and I add my own thoughts to it. Sometimes real life situations affect what I write.
Pair also insists his photos are fresh, so he takes the photo and does the story right away.
That’s the spirit of Instagram: it’s supposed to be instant, this is happening in real time. Instagram isn’t about a professionally curated thing, it’s about being fresh and raw.
The Instagram community
Pair has been on Flickr since 2006, has posted photos on Tumblr, but he said no one seems to care there. But on Instagram, he gets feedback. Instantly.
“That community is there. You feel like you’re sharing to people, not just putting it on the Internet.”
Artists need confidence, validation, and feedback, and Instagram provides that.
The best compliment I got was, ‘God, man, that really hits home.’ or ‘That’s great, but it hurts.’ It resonates with people. I want people to say, ‘I’m not alone in feeling this way.’ I want people to see someone walking down the street and be reminded of my photos. It makes them wonder and creates compassion for others.
Thanks to Jeremy for taking the time to talk to me. He is one of my all time favorite Instagrammers to follow, and you should follow him, too. Maybe he’s already taken your photo and written your story.
That’s all folks … for now
We’ll feature an Instagram user once in a while, when we find someone doing something we think is really cool or unique.
But, in the meantime, if you have a suggestion for an Instagram user that should be featured in this column, please comment below with their username. Who knows, we may pick your favorite Instagrammer next time.