Pretoria - They might be a pestilence to some professional photographers, but the fact is that Instagrammers – the good ones – are not only stealing the limelight but starting to make a living out of it. And blogger-cum-Instagrammer Gareth Pon is the proof.
The 27-year-old Pon, from Bedfordview in Joburg, recently won the award for “Best Instagrammer in Africa” in the first annual African Blogger Awards, which had 520 entries from 27 African countries in several categories such as Best African YouTube channel, Best African Blog and Best African Twitter profile.
The winners were rated according to their reach on Webfluential, a platform created to give brands, media buyers and advertisers an independent measurement of the most relevant online and social influencers.
The combined audiences of entrants totalled more than 5.6 million blog visitors, 10.2 million Twitter followers, 2.5 million Instagram followers, with YouTube channels obtaining a combined 75 million views.
Pon topped the Instagrammer entries with an impressive following of more than 150 000 on his Instagram.com/garethpon account, boosted by the flurry of magazine articles after his win.
Now brands like Nike are inviting him to be part of their activation campaigns.
“Instagramming has started translating into a career for me. Brands are increasingly approaching Instagrammers to create content and to get access to their followers,” says Pon.
You need “likes” and followers to unlock the commercial potential of Instagram, and for that you need the knack for a clever turn of phrase or an eye for a picture. Dedication is crucial too, says Pon.
“I post two or three pictures a day. If you neglect it, your followers start unfollowing you.”
Pon has accumulated about 10 000 photographs in his gallery, and he describes his style as “documentary storytelling”. “I love shooting candid stuff, and I try to get emotion into the picture,” he says.
He doesn’t always use his iPhone 5S. He also has a Samsung phone and a digital camera at hand, and like all aspirant Instagrammers, he uses a choice of apps, like Snapseed, to filter and tweak the images..
The trailblazers in the global Instagram community are, ironically, professional photographers mostly in the US, and Pon follows them religiously.
One is Ben Lowy, a New York photographer who famously took a 2012 Time magazine cover shot with his iPhone. Another is David Guttenfelder, an American photographer based in Tokyo, who has 346 164 Instagram followers. Another is Chris Ozer, with more than 554 000 Instagram followers.
“Instagram has provided a space for amateur photographers, and it’s proving to be a vital artistic outlet for many of them. But professional photographers also use it because it is an instant, social network platform for their work. Today you need to create content across all media platforms to gain relevance and resonance,” says Pon.
He stresses the distinction between Instagram and Twitter. “Instagram is about the image, not the words. My followers don’t even read my captions. They’re only interested in the pictures.
“Instagram is a different mindset to Twitter, like Vimeo versus YouTube,” he says. While YouTube is the biggest video platform by far, Vimeo is a smaller, niche group of film enthusiasts.
Instagram has the same kind of appeal, he suggests, even though any avid social networker typically uses other platforms, like Twitter, Flickr, Tumblr, Facebook and Foursquare, to cross-pollinate their appeal and extend their coverage.
To get the country on the global map of Instagrammers, Pon founded the official Instagrammers South Africa Community last year (instagram.com/ igersSouthAfrica), and has since been hosting regular “instameets”, opportunities for Instagrammers to meet and take photos.
Pon’s role as a local pioneer in this culture of cellphone photography happened more by destiny than design.
After leaving school, he did a short stint in fashion at Lisof fashion design college before enrolling for a BA in visual communications at Open Window in Centurion. He majored in film and photography. He graduated last year and has since been freelancing.
Instagram proved to be where he could really unleash his creativity, however, and he says most of his connections have been made through this platform.
Are there any downsides? Pon says Instagram needs to be managed in the same way you manage Facebook or any other social network platform.
“You have to set boundaries,” he says.
But the good vastly overwhelms the bad and ugly, Pon says, because it has enabled people to discover their creativity without the need to splash out on a fancy digital camera. All they need is a smartphone, and they can post pictures and gain followers.
Locally, Pon has only one other creative vying for first position follower-wise and that’s Levon Lock (instagram.com/levonlock), who on Friday had 156 272 followers to Pon’s 157 678.
Meanwhile, Pon is in Amsterdam as part of an international team of bloggers working with Nike. It goes to show what a smartphone, matched with a smart user, can achieve in our digital age. - Pretoria News
l See www.africanbloggerawards.com