Not Just Duck Lips and Avocado Toast: Instagram for Western Mass Artists

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@postaljeff Jeff Kelley Photo

Jeff Kelley, a Northampton post officer and owner of the Instagram account @postaljeff, scrolls through months of his posts, reaching a series featuring a red phone. He stops at a post with the phone dangling off a tree by the cord, it was photoshopped by another photographer he met on an Instameet.

An Instameet, Kelley explains, involves various photographers and Instagrammers coming together IRL (that’s in real life) to take photos and swap ideas.

“When you see thousands of photos, obviously you find something you like, but collaborations help you open your creative boundaries,” he says.

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@igers413

Kelley, 41, also has a second account, @igers413, which he created solely to share the work Western Mass photographers. This year about a dozen member photographers put together a show with photos they created with the theme #ChasingLight. Right now, their work is hanging up at GoBerry on Main Street in Northampton. Earlier it was displayed at Living Art Studio, also of Northampton. The show was, in part, sponsored by the Northampton Arts Council.

One of the featured artists, Nicholas Jeffway, a graduate architecture student at UMass Amherst, says he joined @igers413 because it’s a mainline into the area’s evolving art scene.

“The igers413 account excites me,” Jeffway says, “because it continually offers fresh and interesting perspectives on our awesome Valley.”

In today’s age of social media, selfie queens and Insta jocks have taken to the mainstream with thought out Instagram posts portraying their idea of a perfect image. But a subculture lives between the duck faces and mirror selfies. People creating and sharing art.

It’s not surprising that the Pioneer Valley, known for its offbeat and artistic vibe, is home to popular artists who use Instagram as a platform to showcase their work. But they’re also using it to make connections. Instagram has become more than just a place to present pictures, it’s become a platform to make connections and draw inspiration from others. Kelley cites Instagram as the spark that led him to think more creatively.

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@postaljeff Jeff Kelley Photo

“Before I would have never thought to try and capture it. That has been the biggest takeaway from Instagram … Realistically, it’s thinking like a photographer, but Instagram was the catalyst for me seeing things more creatively.”

 

 

Unlike many dark corners of the internet, Kelley says Instagram’s art community is teaming with positivity. The challenge, artists say, is keeping a positive attitude themselves within Instagrams’ rules and restrictions, which don’t necessarily condone art that pushes boundaries.

 

Similar to Kelley, photographer Courtney Brooke Hall also uses Instagram @light_witch, to share her work and participate in the artists community. She also has a website, lightwitch.com.

 

Hall, 35, cites Goya, Beardsle and Waterhouse as inspirations for her art. Scrolling through her posts you can see Hall, who also tends bar at The Quarters in Hadley, has stayed true to her vision, which she describes as, “dark romanticism mixed with magical realism … earthly and feminine.”

@light_witch Courtney Brooke Hall Photo

Hall acknowledges the positives of Instagram, but also recalls the times when her posts bent the rules. “I do sometimes have pieces that will show the nude human form, and having more followers means more people to report my images if they see the human form offensive. So, yeah, maybe that can be called a negative, but I just post those images on my patreon blog. So, instead of getting upset I give people who want to see all of what I do and support what I do a place to do so; everyone wins.”

A patreon account is a website dedicated to the arts, with less restrictions on what people can post. Nudity is no problem.

But how has Instagram influenced the artist?

@postaljeff Jeff Kelley Photo

While criticism and challenges are inevitable, both Kelley and Hall feel their accounts have been met with more positives than negatives, and have given them a platform to grow and collaborate with artists of all kinds to elevate their own craft.

Kelley and I continued scrolling through his feed, landing on a photo of a young girl, her image fractured by the water’s reflective surface, before a grove of shaded trees.

Like many others on the social media site, it was Instagram’s sense of community that drew Kelley to make an account.

“If I were posting on other sites it wouldn’t have the same effect. The idea that you can talk to other people made me stick with it. Instagram is much more social,” says Kelley on first joining the social media platform.

His first post, a picture of a young girl holding an umbrella in the woods, was posted on Sept. 11, 2011. Ever since then Kelley has been evolving as an artist, moving from digital manipulation to taking classic photos.

“My photography changed after seeing others work. A lot of the people I followed were doing the same thing as me, but I was able to see people who were taking DSLR style shots … I started out taking a picture and trying to find out how to make it cool, now it’s the opposite.”

Collaborations with other art accounts have proven to be crucial in Kelley’s growth as an artist. On Instagram artist collaborations usually take one of two forms: one person posts a photo and members of the community edit it, or many members of the community take photos on one topic or subject.

@postaljeff Jeff Kelley Photo

#Fantasy_Friday series, Kelley’s last collaboration, was a place for artists to add their spin on a provided photo of a Ferris wheel. In #Fantasy_Friday_93, photographers used the original pic to create digital images featuring the amusement ride. The results were dreamy with an impossibly loopy roller coasters, outer space travel, and a Midway on the mind.

Hall explains she has been creating art her entire life, but she, “really started focusing on photography in high school around the age of 15.”

Creating art at such an early age has allowed Hall to explore multiple forms of social media, but she’s always put art at the forefront, using social media as a means to share her work.

“Having a heap of followers was never and still is not on my mind, that being said I am very thankful and honored that people want to follow along and are interested in my work. Sure it’s given me new ways to connect with folks and put my art out there to folks who wouldn’t have seen it before in a streamlined way, but to be frank I was doing that prior on other social media sites, like deviant art, Flickr, Myspace etc.,” she says.

Hall also agrees that the Instagram art community is one that inspires growth and connections. “I enjoy the community there, the other artists I have met on that platform and friendships I have formed are hands down the best thing to come out of being on Instagram.”

Contact Kyle Olsen at kbolsen@umass.edu.

Author: Kyle Olsen

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