The Grams

I signed up for Instagram May 22, 2011, and in almost 8 years I’ve shared over 5000 photos (fun fact, it takes almost 3 minutes of constant scrolling to get through 5000 photos) that are viewed by countless people around the world and somehow captivated 1200 some people to follow me and it totally blows my mind. The first time I opened the app I had no idea how much this platform would change my life.  

My life in 2011 was very different, I was getting married, worked for the government, had a nice little house in northern BC with a big yard for our dogs to rip around.  All in all, it was a pretty mellow life.  I had been issued the newfangled iPhone 4 at work and was going through withdrawal from my BlackBerry and learning this brave new world of apps.  Some work peeps were talking about this funky app called Instagram and it was apparently a neat way to share photos of your life, the food you eat, the places you go and whatever random things you felt like people needed to see.  There was also filters, oh so many (well like 10) but they made your shitty camera phone pictures look all artistic an shit.  So I signed up for the grams, it was still pretty fresh, not even a year old yet and I started posting all the things.  My first post was a photo of my (ex)wife’s brother and nana, from there it was posts of our dogs, food we cooked at home or dinners we had out, friends we would visit with and places we went on vacation.

It’s kind of crazy to look back now and see how much of a fixture Instagram grew to become, slowly ingraining itself into my world.  It was there when we got married and then spent the weekend in Tofino with friends.  The time we went to South Korea, whenever we found WiFi we would update the world with our exploits.  When we took our honeymoon and drove down to California and spent a week in NorCal and a week in SoCal, our exploits were on the grams.  I tried to curate my feed a couple of years ago and realized that it was a stupid and futile thing to attempt but also that it was more than just pictures.  It’s a living journal of who I was, who I am and potentially a magic 8 ball into who I may become and I felt it was better left alone.

Social Media is a polarizing topic, its a mixed bag of negative and positive experiences, feedback and strong opinions.  For the most part, I can’t say I am a huge fan of social media, I participate because it is part of the societal construct I live in.  That being said, If Facebook, Twitter and whatever else all disappeared tomorrow I wouldn’t be terribly bothered.  But if something were to happen to the grams, I would probably be pretty distraught.  It isn’t because I am codependent on it, or addicted to the likes (however appreciation is nice) but so many of the good things that have happened in my life as of late are a direct result of being part of the Instagram Ecosystem.  It surprises many people when I mention this to them and when I ask why the common response is well its full of fake negative bullshit, why would you waste your time on there.  I will agree that there may be a lot of fakery of people living their best lives when the reality could be very different and some people may buy into the lie and then feel awful that their lives pale in comparison.  But the thing that stands out in my mind with that is choice!  We all choose the experience we have on Instagram, or any other social media platform really.  We choose the people to follow and like and adore and idolize.  The platform doesn’t force false idols down your throat or makes you feel bad about yourself, the choices you have made to curate your experience have.  Today I feel that I have curated an experience on the grams that makes me feel good and allows me to contribute good to people in the community, but it wasn’t always like that for me. 

Before I really understood what Instagram could do for me I had curated a toxic experience, for myself and my partner at the time.  There is so much content all over IG that you can find literally anything on there.  I was following famous people, friends, artists that I found interesting, people that modified cars, some photography stuff, bands, and models.  It all seemed innocent enough but I fell prey to the negativity that people talk to me about today, the lives of these people that I would see on there would make me feel crummy about mine.  Insecure feelings of jealousy, envy and not being good enough or skinny enough or beautiful were common for me and the things I would follow and like exposed my partner to bad feelings too.  We would sometimes get into arguments about the things I would like or follow, at the time I didn’t understand why she got upset but hindsight is 20/20.  

It’s 2019 and I am living on the other side of the country in a place that is still fairly alien to me.  I am separated, paying a mortgage on a house I don’t live in, rent in one of the most expensive cities in Canada and tending to a multitude of other things resulting from poor life choices.  I am grateful to have a decent job that affords me the ability to keep up with my responsibilities and still live a little.  This is something I have been making more of a conscious effort to do, the last few years have been pretty crazy and very dark at times.  In doing my best to be responsible, I had forgotten to take care of myself.  I struggle with mental illness, I’ve written a little about it and I’m sure there will be more words I’ll share on the topic.  I was so focused on trying to work through things and putting off living until after I had cleared my plate of issues.  Life is short though, we only have so much time and we don’t even really know how much time we have to begin with and there are always going to be new hurdles to deal with so something had to give.  

Photography and I lost our way for quite some time, I still dabbled but I never took it as seriously as I used to.  Instagram was a way to dip my toes back into it without committing fully.  When I first arrived in Toronto I wasn’t sure how to connect with this city and I’m still trying to figure it out today.  I decided that maybe photography would be a good idea and picked up a used Nikon D300, I still had some glass from my old busted ass Nikon D70 so I just needed a new body.  Now my Instagram feed was flooding with random things I’d see while trucking around Toronto trying to get to know it.  A few months into rekindling my relationship with photography shit got serious, I started shooting film and fell in love with it.  Toronto is a dangerous place for a film nerd because there is an amazing used market here and I started acquiring gear I had always dreamed of but figured I would never be able to afford.  I got deep into Polaroid, then 35mm and 120mm and eventually medium format. 

Along the way a Bronica SQ-Ai medium format camera landed in my hands and I was in love if you have never experienced one before it is something you need to feel just once even.  There is something really magical about the way that the camera feels to hold, to focus and then the shutter noise is like nothing else out there.  My Bronica and I started exploring the city and capturing photos of all the random convenience stores that are littered all over Toronto.  I had a loose idea what I’d do with these photos, which is more than I can say for the bulk I shoot.  My good pal Koehn and I were playing with the idea of making a book.  In late 2017 I got a random e-mail from a rad lady who had found me on the grams and wanted me to do a showing in her space and offered to do a book release party for me so the book idea became a  reality and in a way, it was because of Instagram.  I wrote a lil post on it that you can find here if you’re curious.

I was up late one night in early 2018 and saw that Jason Lee was going to be hosting an event at the Leica store in Boston that April.  Jason’s work has been very inspiring to me and is one of the reasons why I made the transition to shoot film.  It was a two-day thing, day one a book signing which included a copy of his latest book A PLAIN VIEW which I was eyeing up anyways and day two was a small group workshop with him and a photo walk around Boston.  It wasn’t crazy expensive for the two days but it was enough that I fought with myself over signing up for it or not.  Seating was limited and also there’s that whole never meet your hero’s thing.  I could put that money towards debt or whatever, what if he was a jerk and it ruined how I felt about his work.  With a heavy feeling in my stomach, I committed and spent money I felt I should not be spending on myself and went to bed.  Looking back it is so stupid that I felt like shit spending money on myself, like what the hell man, what is so wrong with investing in yourself.  Anyways the day came and I flew down to Boston, it was my second time in the city but the first time I’d actually get to explore it.  It was rainy and I got lost really fucking bad, like ended up way on the other side of town from where I was supposed to be bad.  But a couple of trains and an Uber later I made it to my Airbnb, the host was awesome, she picked me up at the train station because she felt bad for the mixup.  If you ever go to Boston, don’t drive, its a nightmare, buy yourself a 7-day transit pass at the station near the terminal and just rock the transit.  

That weekend in Boston transformed my life, I met so many great people, random people, people I will never meet again but that I will never forget the moments we shared.  I was able to photograph some of them (which will help me remember when my brainmeat starts failing) Jason wasn’t a jerk, he’s probably one of the nicest people I’ve met so far and it was something else to be able to share some time with him and learn from him.  I felt alive, walking around in a new city, breathing new air, seeing new things, eating at new places, holy shit why don’t I do this more often.  I met this dude Armand during the weekend, he was traveling with Jason and runs the Denton Camera Exchange in Denton Texas. While we were hanging out we learned we’re both into Instant Film and he told me about this Polaroid event that happens in Denton/Dallas every year called Polacon that is run by The Instant Film Society.  

Fast forward to September 2018 and I’m on my way to Dallas Texas to check out this Polacon thing.  Similar to my experience in Boston I ended up meeting so many great people and fell in love with the Dallas Fort Worth area, I didn’t really want to come back, the light there was so beautiful.  The weekend was filled with workshops and photo walks and I learned a lot of cool stuff and made some really important connections.  I learned a lot about myself from these experiences and they would have never happened if I had not been on Instagram and saw these events and met the different amazing people I’ve met.

I’ve rambled a lot and I’m pretty sure I lost the direction to the original point I had intended to make.  TLDR: Instagram is a tool, like anything else.  It can be used for good and bad, it’s easy to focus on the bad but the good if you can find it is truly amazing.  I have made some seriously awesome friendships and have had really rad adventures because of Instagram.  I’m sorry I didn’t mention all of the awesome people here but you know who you are.  Life is about choices, we get to choose the direction we go on the paths that life puts in front of us.  Try not to get stuck on a false path that looks too good to be true, don’t live in a screen forever, use the tool, make real connections.  Choose life.