I’ve decided to document a year of my life on Instagram. After joining the platform a couple of weeks ago, it struck me that it had a great capacity for narrative storytelling that was seemingly underutilized by the majority of its patrons. Untold numbers of amazing photographers posted images of great beauty to the site, but there was scarcely ever a clear chronological narrative to anyone’s portfolio. I considered the fact that this was a shame; if art is an imitation of life, then a photo-journal of a whole year’s worth of experiences would seem to be a project well worth undertaking. At the same time, it seemed like a cool and interesting challenge to learn a new art form and craft what would essentially amount to a comic-book version of my daily adventures, for what they’re worth. And when the year was up, I figured that I would have constructed an incomparable monument to a little slice of my personal history to which I could return forever.
To be honest, by most accounts, my life these days is pretty boring. It involves teaching a class at Fairfield, composing a novel, blogging, and preparing my dissertation; the imaginary and historical worlds that I type about are much more interesting than the banal comings and goings of my reality as a writer. I’ve learned that the most beautiful frames of my existence can be manifested as a stream of selfies, snapshots of cats, portraits of food, images of the changing seasons, and various pictures of the people and architecture of New Haven. I’m sure talented photographers with more exciting existences than mine would be truly enthralling to follow, but to flatter myself, even in the case of my humdrum life and in the thematic shadow of my incompetence and inexperience as a cameraman armed with nothing but his iPhone, you can’t help but be at least somewhat interested by someone when you see the world through their eyes for a while, and learn to understand what they consider to be beautiful.
In many ways, Instagram is a perfect platform for a project like this—strangers meet there every day to laud each other’s photos in glowing terms, and it’s possible to build a large and enthusiastic audience of followers from around the world relatively quickly. At the same time, though, most Instagram users are on the hunt for rapid beauty and the swift consumption of photographs rather than the musings of a verbose stranger whose life they can study in detail. My captions are too long, and because I’m trying to utilize several photos a day to explain an unfolding narrative, not all of my pictures are as beautiful as they might be. I have likely alienated some of my friends on the site by my oversharing—I understand that they want to see pictures of Fiji and sundry cute things, and are not too interested in my eating Fruit Loops and heading off to the library.
Still, I persist. Since joining Instagram, my vantage point on mundane reality has been transformed. I’ve come to appreciate that all around me at any given time, there is a great deal of beauty and interest if I’m only alert enough to be sensitive to it. A butterfly or squirrel passing by can be interpreted as a game of tag; a long wait at a coffee shop can be seen as an opportunity to take a close look at the bouquet on the counter. I’m inspired to visit art galleries and parks and friends in other cities so that I can have more diverse photos on my account; incidentally, this also brings greater interest to my daily life. I suddenly have a reason to go to Mystic Seaport, and plan a trip to Newport.
At the same time, Instagram creates pressure on me to do my work, because I feel like I’m performing for an audience. My experiment has transformed what proved to be a terrible month into something a little bit more beautiful. Most of my friends have graduated, and I’m less well known on the debate circuit than I used to be; these days, when I announce a new blog post on Facebook, I’ll be lucky to receive one or two likes. But on Instagram, a cute picture of Mousepud is sure to get dozens of reactions. I don’t have many followers, but those who have stuck by my page seem sincerely supportive and friendly. In many ways, I now have a Greek chorus following me around all day. It’s extraordinary.
On the train to work today, I kept looking out the window trying to find things to shoot. Just after we left Bridgeport, I saw a herd of elephants. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were five or six of them in what seemed to be a penned-in parking lot. We passed by so quickly, I didn’t have time to take a picture. Yet no one else seemed to see the elephants but me. Nobody was even looking. There was the difference.
(My account name on Instagram is spqrkimel.)