It seems so simple.
But what started three years ago by photographer Josh Johnson as a way to connect folks on Instagram, has since turned into the photo-sharing app’s largest and most active community… on a global scale.
Here’s how it works: Each day Johnson posts a theme. Folks take photos encompassing the idea and publish them on their own Instagram feeds, adding the correct hashtag for the day. Of the thousands of photos Johnson and his team — including former Playboy Senior Photo Editor Kevin Kuster – choose only select shots to feature on the site as highlighted examples of the theme.
Now, the group is moving past the small screen and into reality: Last year, Johnson, Kuster, and the team traveled to five cities by way of the Fiat 500 to lead day-long photo workshops with members of the #JJ community. In May, they’re traveling to Costa Rica with The Trip Tribe.
We spoke with Johnson and Kuster about the trip, the #JJ community, and the ways in which the art of photography is changing, thanks — in no small part — to them.
The Trip Tribe: Costa Rica. Lots of photo-loving folks. You guys. Is this the best trip ever?
Kevin Kuster: We really just want to have a lot of fun. Think of it like an Instameet vacation — this is for people around the globe to come together and not only create amazing images, but to see a unique location that is visually stunning.
Everyday we’ll start out with a class [see trip details] — catered to all skill levels — then we’ll embark on, what I like to call a photo adventure to a specific destination and capture images of each compelling fun place… a waterfall, a zipline, the tropical rainforest… places like that.
Then at night, we’ll have a more social environment where we’ll project everyone’s photos from the day and essentially share to see how different people interpreted the day.
TTT: Speaking of your community, how did you start #JJ?
Josh Johnson: When Instagram first started, I think there was an inherent problem… okay, you made an account and you’re taking pictures. Now what? In the beginning your friends weren’t necessarily on there, we didn’t have hashtags… how were we going to rub elbows with people and make it so that you weren’t at the shallow end of the void?
So I said, let’s have a daily meeting. Let’s all get together and take and post pics about a special theme. It began to pull people together so that we started to feel like we were talking to somebody and posting for a reason. And there was also a unique by-product in that it also captured the sense that this was a collaborative piece that ended up being bigger than the sum of its parts. You scroll through these 7,000 pics in the gallery or the hashtag for the daily theme and the whole collection has a very neat aesthetic to it. So every day for the last three years we’ve gotten together and had a theme. And now our community talks to each other, posts photos, and comments on them.
TTT: Is Instagram changing the world?
JJ: For me, if you think of creativity as a drug, Instagram kind of feels like an IV as opposed to taking a pill or something. It’s quick and easy and immediate and effective. We have a great tool not only to capture anything but also to share with everybody on the whole internet… there’s just very little friction. So for me it’s a great deal.
I’m sure you’re aware, digital media and handheld, mobile media are just rocking the advertising world — it’s hard to reach people. We spend so much time on our phones browsing, so the question is, how are brands going to connect with us? My thought is: creative communities like #JJ community on Instagram offer a great opportunity for companies to connect with individuals.
TTT: Is Instagram the end of photography as we know it?
KK: There is a renaissance going on right now… Never in the history of photography have more images been taken, have more pictures been shared, and are there more events being captured globally. So for me, it is the single most exciting time in the history of photography.
Josh and I were in Brazil when we spoke at the first mobile photo conference and it was there that I really learned that [mobile photography] is so powerful. People are just hungry to learn.
And I look at it this way: In all honesty, everyone can be a photographer. It doesn’t mean you’re good at it, and that’s okay. There will be people who are amateurs and they love it and that’s great.
But I would say that my philosophy and Josh’s philosophy is the exact same: give it away. The more you give your knowledge away, the more people learn and the more you get from it. You can ask me any question… whatever trick I know, whatever secret, you think I might have, I’ll give it to you and so will Josh, because we’re both really passionate about teaching.
TTT: Any last words to pump us up even more for the trip to Costa Rica?
KK: It’s really about adventure, connecting with people, and having fun… and the thing that ties those three things together is photography.
JJ: Our motto is create to connect – with this trip, we’re continuing to take it to the next level with face-to-face interaction and show that this online community is real.
Check out the trip details here!