InstaMeets: Turning Social Media Offline / by Faizal Westcott

Instagram has always been considered a community, and despite the number of times we may feel stuck in an ever-present online world, social media platforms like Instagram hold a lot of power in providing opportunities in an offline context. Its often overlooked and misused, but we have this tool in social media at our disposal to bring like-minded individuals together to create, learn, and socialize with one another over a shared passion (and it just so happens to be photography). The photography community on Instagram is no stranger to this and it has brought together people from all over the world through 'InstaMeets'. 

Putting the social in social media, InstaMeets provide people of all ages and skill levels to come together and feed off of each other's creative energy. They have been an important function of the photography community on Instagram for a long time. I remember attending my first InstaMeet back in 2016 during the first week of the new year. It was held by @canahtam, a then Boston based portrait photographer who recently moved from Turkey and who had a relatively large following of around 150,000 on Instagram. The intent of the meet-up was to bring together photographers and models to create and network with each other, but most importantly have fun and take portraits. Looking to grow my portfolio, I saw this as a great opportunity to take some portraits of models whom I probably wouldn't have had the guts to work with by myself. What I didn't know was that this would become the start of something much greater; it provided me a community I had been longing for.

Showing up to these meet-ups was rather intimidating for me at first, especially the second one I went to which was organized by @pursuitofportraits in New York City. It was obvious everyone was feeling that same anxiety as I would watch people quietly trickle into the InstaMeet location and gather alongside people they didn't even know, or at least didn't know yet. Once things got kicked off and the creative process commenced, you could instantly sense the change in atmosphere. People were taking portraits of each other, exchanging contact information, and sharing their expertise. Most successful InstaMeets have some sort of itinerary where the group will shift to different locations throughout the city, and so was the case with this InstaMeet in NYC. We started in Battery Park and ended the evening on the Staten Island ferry. I made many new friends that day and learned new things about photography, and it only had me wanting for more. Here's a short video from an InstaMeet held in Boston (I'm somewhere in the video) that captures the vibe of the event well. 

 A group photo from my first InstaMeet. Image courtesy from @protraitmeet

A group photo from my first InstaMeet. Image courtesy from @protraitmeet

I did a little research on how Instagram promotes InstaMeets on their website to get a better sense of how Instagram envisions these events. What I instantly found was a short guide on how to not only attend an event but host one yourself. Anybody can set up their own meet up anytime and anywhere, and that's the beauty of this platform.

Social media comes with a lot of baggage and it can be easy to get caught up in this digital world of likes, followers, and disproportional opinions. InstaMeets bring what originally felt like an augmented reality into the real world and opens up the opportunity for photographers like myself to meet other photographers who, before, were nothing but an @username. It's essential for us to make use of these events because apps like Instagram aren't here for the long-term. Eventually they will fade away until a new platform arises, but the people we meet and the relationships we create have the opportunity to last a lifetime.