Fifteen Instagram photos inspired by road trips across America now hang at the lobby of the Wolfsonian-FIU, helping to legitimize Instagram as a platform for new and seasoned photographers. With the collaboration of #JJ community, the largest online photography community on Instagram, these 15 photos stood out from over 7,000 submissions after the call went out to photographers on the social media site to hashtag their best pictures inspired by three categories: Road Trip, Signage and Classic. Stirred by photojournalist Berenice Abbott’s June 1954 road trip along the East Coast United States, photographers from every walk of life tapped into their sense of wanderlust to submit their most poignant work.
The exhibit, called “The Long Road to Now: Digital Photos Inspired by Berenice Abbott’s Road Trip,” uncovered 15 talented photographers, from a grandmother trying out her hand at picture-taking to someone who was sightseeing in New York City and who hopped on a taxi past Radio City and shot something out of the cab window. The Wolfsonian-FIU is also showcasing “North and South: Berenice Abbott’s U.S. Route 1,” a traveling exhibition from the Syracuse University Art Collection.
Documentarian Berenice Abbott set out in her car from Fort Kent, Maine, all the way to Key West, Florida, photographing 1950s America just as construction of the interstate highway system, Route 1, started. She wanted to document the changing landscape of the eastern seaboard. Now, 50 of the 2,400 of her black and white photographs are featured at the museum.
To tie in both exhibits for the public, Megan Floryan, head of marketing at the Wolfsonian, brainstormed on how to reach photographers to display work that speaks to the concept of road trips. Her team found a similar project called “Mobile Photo Now” at the Columbus Museum of Art. The museum partnered with #JJ community to pitch a photography challenge through social media and the response was overwhelming. Likewise, the Wolfsonian decided to pitch the “Long Road to Now” challenge and brought together a pool of professionals and hobbyists whose work tell a story of adventure reminiscent to Abbott’s work from half a century ago.
Kevin Kuster, CEO and partner for the #JJ community on Instagram, and a community of over 600,000 followers, vetted the photographs with fellow #JJ partner, Josh Johnson, the namesake of the tag. Together, they looked for the “universal truths,” as Kuster explains, of good photography: composition, color, point of interest, perspective and exposure.
“But what makes someone stand out of the crowd?” the veteran photographer asked. “A unique voice. The iPhone and a camera [are] only a tool; it doesn’t take good pictures, it doesn’t take bad pictures. It’s like any musical instrument. I could pick up a guitar and I know a couple of notes, but you give this guitar to Ed Vedder or Eddie Van Halen, and they can make that guitar sing.”
According to Floryan, some of the winners were traveling on road trips when they snapped their winning photograph. Lisboa, the Portuguese photographer behind “This is London,” was visiting London when she took the photo. Other photographers – some who don’t identify as photographers – hail from Russia, from Japan, from Cuba, from Italy, among other places.
Floryan reflected on the usage of the word “now” in “The Long Road to Now.”
“The word ‘now’ has a dual meaning,” Floryan said. “These are photographs that people are taking of everyday life “now” just like Berenice Abbott took photographs of what her “now” was in 1954, but like Berenice’s work “now” sometimes contains layers of history – a building built in the 1700s next to a building built in the 1800s, next to certain signage that popped up in the mid 19th century. With the Instagram show, ‘now’ has that social media angle to it, and what does “now” mean? Digestable images that represent what’s happening right in front of you.”
To Kuster, even an amateur photographer has the potential to snap a well-crafted photograph.
“Finding your voice is made up of hundreds of thousands of millions of small little steps,” Koster said. “What I’ve learned about finding your voice is you already have your voice. You might just not know what your voice is saying.”
These contemporary photographers also did not have to toil as arduously as Abbott did, because of the advancement of mobile camera technology. Equipped with “really good tools” as Koster said, one is not held back by technology and should “try to be thoughtful about what [one] put out in the world.”
With this exhibit and others like it, Instagram has become an authentic platform for photographers to share their work. For the platform, it also has been a long road.
“It’s legitimizing not just the method through which they capture the photographs,” Floryan said. “But also legitimizing taking photographs of every day, really mundane life. In Berenice’s work, you’re not seeing too many dramatic moments. This is just what you’re seeing on the roadside, the people you’re meeting, the sights you’re taking photos of and wanting to immortalize [those moments]. What we do here at the Wolfsonian is to try to make people see the everyday world around them with kind of new eyes, and this project perfectly encapsulates that. It takes scenes you might take for granted and turns them into art.”
“The Long Road to Now: Digital Photos Inspired by Berenice Abbott’s Road Trip” is on display at the Wolfsonian-FIU Museum in South Beach and will remain on view through October 8, 2017. Every Friday from 6:00 p.m.- 9 p.m., a free guided tour of the museum is provided along with free admission. In conjunction with the Wolfsonian’s ‘Road-Trip-Themed’ Summer, the Miami-Beach Cinematheque is playing road-trip-themed movies like “The Straight Story” and “On the Road.”