Talking About Instagram with Huw Griffiths
Huw's Instagram account is probably the best personal account that you could follow. Not promoting a photographer, business or pushing products; the account documents his travels, life and sartorial interests.
I remember a photo he took of his trainers that was used as a cover image on a second run of Proper Mag's first ever issue. This was years ago and we've been following each other around the internet ever since, it seems.
We have spoken in the past about sorting something out - a project, a chat, an anything - so here is a bit of something; a chat about Instagram.
A suitable topic as it's an ever growing medium for brands which goes against the original artistic focus that made the app so popular in the first place, and how Huw clocks up hundreds of likes per week...
Paul: So why Instagram? Why not a dedicated blog/site?
Huw: I’ve used several different things in the past but given my interest in photography, Instagram was a natural choice.
There’s a touch of the Alice in Wonderland about Instagram that has always interested me. By that I mean that with a tap of a screen you can disappear down a hole and appear somewhere else, looking at a different view and often the stories that accompanied it. That’s what interests me about it.
Every now and then I get an idea and Instagram has been a perfect vehicle for it. A few years back I found a jar of 100 miniature time capsules. They were like medical capsules but had paper scrolls in them. I posted an appeal asking who would like one with the promise of posting them one on the understanding that they wrote something on the scroll, planted it somewhere and then posted a photo of it.
The 100 capsules ended up going all over the world and were planted in places beyond my wildest expectations. One was in the Courteeners lead singer’s pocket at Glasto I think before it was placed in a wonderful sculpture on the moors while another was planted at Nelson Mandela’s house.
The journey of stories is something I find very interesting and the capsules ended up providing some very interesting stories that travelled far and wide.
How's life and what's going on beyond the obvious bundle of joy? How are you juggling things? [Huw recently became a father for the first time.]
Life is very interesting at the moment given the birth of Arthur. His arrival still doesn’t feel real and I feel like I haven’t digested it all yet. The best way to describe it is that it feels like homesickness. Despite being in completely familiar surroundings, there’s a strange unease and sense of unfamiliarity, probably because it’s all new.
Have you noticed any changes for better or worse since Facebook took ownership? A lot of folk have fretted over the subscriptions thing that was seemingly a hoax. Others are disgruntled at the inclusion of sponsored posts.
The whole landscape of Instagram changed within hours of Facebook’s ownership being announced. That may seem over-dramatic but it really did. Before that announcement, it seemed pretty close knit and small like some sort of village. There was lots of interesting interaction, and people’s accounts grew organically as your photos would appear on the popular page.
It sounds a bit sad but there was always a sense of excitement when you got a notification that your photo had appeared on the popular page. It wasn’t because of all the likes and follows nonsense but more so that your photo and the story that went with it had travelled further afield.
On the day Facebook acquired Instagram, the whole landscape changed. Suddenly, it was ‘celebrities’, companies punting stuff or One Direction Fan accounts that became ‘popular’ and genuine photographers and storytellers didn’t seem that relevant. I don’t include myself in the latter categories by the way.
It’s evolved a lot since then, some for the better and some for the worse. I’ve got to know lots of lovely and interesting and generous people on there, and that’s what keeps me on there.
On the flipside, my interest in it as a platform is waning slightly at the moment. These automated generic comments on my feed by people who have paid companies to post on their behalf to gain followers really irk me.
In addition, there’s a pervading sense of ulterior motives and agendas on there now. Many posters are either desperate for the affirmation that likes and followers bring them or are trying to cash in by trying to get things for free or selling us something. I guess it feels like the integrity seems to have gone out of it.
Having said that, if I was offered a trip to Iceland in exchange for sharing my photos of it then I guess I’d sell out too.
Do you use Instagram for your work as an English teacher?
No. Despite making references to work related tales, I try to keep a definite split between the two. There’s definite scope for it though for the right project.
I've come across some interesting characters via the comments and with the advent of a private inbox. You must have done given the number of likes you get?
I wouldn’t say it’s been via DM’s really. I’ve got into conversations with several people and forged some lasting friendships via Instagram as a whole. Some of which I’ve gone on to meet and would consider them friends.
Did you consider the implications of putting your baby online? Not in a sinister way, I just mean he's out there in the ether now forever and he might not want to be one day. Probably not likely but, you know, it's possible I suppose.
I’m careful, primarily because my account’s open and being a teacher I’m aware that students sometimes find me on there. Blocking them when they do has become an occupational hazard/necessity.
As for Arthur, my account, ultimately will be for him. It’s documented my life before his arrival and will now evolve into our life together. My idea is that it will become a sort of time capsule or photographic memoir for him when he’s older. A bit like a living archive.
Your general attitude to life, from our fleeting chats over the years (crikey) anyway, seems at odds with what is really a vulgar form of expression; "look how good this is. Like me for it"? Is that true? I often find it hard to put personal things on social so don't. I also refrain from posting things I've really enjoyed that are special events, to avoid showing off. You don't seem to be showing off by the way; your trips look natural. I really loved the time you got a canoe and went exploring. Tell us about that?
There’s a fine line between sharing my experiences, good and bad, and trying to show off or appear to be fishing for back pats and affirmation. That’s a difficult one to balance as I’d want neither of those things.
The posts I’m most tense about are work related ones when I want to acknowledge something that someone’s done or has moved me. I’m always concerned that people will think I’m being sanctimonious or trying to elevate myself to some grand position. That couldn’t be further from what I want.
I like to get on with my business, in every aspect, without fuss but I have this need and want to share stories that sometimes feels at odds with that. I’m still not completely comfortable with it but those posts seem to resonate with people the most and I hope that those who see and read them think my motives are sound.
By the same token, when I post about leaving my desk and heading out to the mountains at the drop of a hat or deciding I need to get in a canoe and explore I’m acutely conscious of not wanting to appear contrived.
This all sounds like I’m very conflicted. Maybe I am but I guess my greatest crime is possibly saying too much or being too open. Which is odd really as in ‘real life’ I’m someone who keeps things very much to themselves. I’d certainly say that many of the posts I put up are things I’d never share openly in person.
What's your personal favourite place you've visited and Instagrammed?
Without doubt, it’s Iceland. Words can’t describe the magic that country holds. I’ve been twice and the wanderlust that it casts over you is incredible. When Arthur’s a little older, I fully intend to head back there and share it with him.
Do you have a favourite post?
I think that’s for other people to answer.
Currently snoring in his bed.
Has he anything to add?
‘What’s this noisy thing that they’ve brought into the house and how come he’s allowed upstairs like I used to be but now I’m stuck down here?’
Massive thanks to Huw and all the best to Arthur and Ned.
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Lisboa is a hard copy and high quality, 20 page, A4, table top photo-documentary which tells the story of one 24 hour period in the Portuguese capital city of Lisbon. Following a timeline from the early morning of one weekday through to the early hours of the next, this project captures the changing face of a varied city.