Instagram launched in October 2010. Two years later, photographers Peter diCampo and Austin Merrill started posting, under the username @EverydayAfrica, scenes of African life happening alongside the wars, famines and other “news events” the two photographers were covering in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. As they put it on their website, “As journalists who are native to Africa, or have lived and worked on the continent for years at a time, we find the extreme not nearly as prevalent as the familiar, the everyday.”
Today, @EverydayAfrica reaches an audience of more than 113,000 followers, and incited other countries and regions to follow their example. Dozens of feeds sprouted since theirs, among them @EverydayAsia, @EverydayMiddleEast, @EverydayEasternEurope, @EverydayIran, @EverydayEgypt and @EverydayUSA.
Some of these photographers shared a joint exhibit at Photoville in New York City this year, and in September, Peter DiCampo from @EverydayAfrica, Nana Kofi Acquah with @EverydayAfrica, Matt Black from @EverydayUSA, and Ramin Talaie from @EverydayIran, participated in a panel at Columbia Journalism School, curated by professor Nina Berman, a member of @EverydayUSA. ColumbiaVisuals also interviewed David Guttenfelder, founder of the EverydayUSA and EverydayPRK (North Korea).
These feeds are spaces owned by documentary photographers themselves.
Instagram allows photographers to publish their work directly, without the filter of an editor.“These are spaces that are completely controlled by photographers, that’s something totally new,” said Matt Black during the panel.
That means documentary photographers can “take on issues or reveal something about the country without the constraint of having to be on assignments, of having the constraints of a particular editorial board,” explains photographer David Guttenfelder. ”So we can go out and do the work that we really care about and we can build a following, a community, an audience. We can make an impact in that way.”
“The traditional newspapers or magazines don’t often have the space, or are not able to support long documentary work,” he adds. “Photographers often don’t have the place to publish.“
The photographs displayed on the Everyday feeds are very often different from the professional work done by the photographers. That’s partly because the vast majority of pictures are taken with a phone, which allows for more intimacy and spontaneity. Also, the subjects represented can be very different from the work photographers do when on assignment.
Each photographer brings his own view of the world to the feeds. Most of the feeds are unedited, and run by collective of professional photographers, who share the feed.“It’s interesting because the sum of all parts create a bigger view of the country,” said Guttenfelder.
Some feeds, as the Iran and Jamaica ones, differ a bit in that they are curated by editors who select images from amateurs and professional photographers based in the countries and decide what to share.
These feeds work to change perceptions, because perception is reality
Photographer Nana Kofi Acquah said it very clearly during the panel: “Perception is reality. The truth, or whatever we call the truth, the reality, does not matter as much as what people think is a reality. Fortunately, visual imagery is a universal language. So simply showing, simply documenting, everyday life in Africa challenges peoples’ perceptions.“
By showing images of regular life, the Everyday feeds bring “a stream of contextualization” to stories and issues, says Peter di Campo: “All the Everydays are about changing perception and challenging stereotypes.”
Challenging stereotypes means something different in each region.
In the Everyday Africa feed, it means showing that the continent is not all about hunger and wars. “A lot of what you see in the media about Africa is true,” says Nana Kofi Acquah. “There is war in some parts, there is famine in some parts, there is death, poverty, Ebola, AIDS. But all of that together is actually pretty much insignificant. If Africa were a huge map and you were to spot these things on the map, you would notice how minuscule in scale they would be compared to everything else that happens in the continent.“
In the feed from Iran , it means showing glimpses of the inside culture, alongside the outside culture. “Inside culture -the private culture- is anything goes,” explains Ramin Talaie. “Drinking, sex, drugs, rock and roll, all of that. The outside culture is what you see. You know, women in hijab and conservative attires, et cetera. In our feed you’ll see both.”
In the US feed, it means tackling issues that the traditional media doesn’t show. Newspapers already publish pictures of normal life. “What Americans need more of from photographers is more critical photography,” explains Guttenfelder. “More critically thinking photographers and longer-term projects, and a place to publish them.”
The Everyday feeds are part of a bigger movement of more contextualized journalism, and they have gathered enough attention to attract traditional publications. “Publications, editors, other institutions are coming to us now to repost and use this work, and that’s incredible,” said photographer Matt Black.
“There are so many people participating in Instagram, it’s naturally elevating people’s visual literacy,” says Guttenfelder. “It’s becoming very normal to cover a place by showing what’s happening in people’s homes and on the streets, and not just [showing] the news. “
Instagram and the Everyday feeds are a work in progress, and the photographers keep experimenting.
Matt Black resisted Instagram for a long time. He finally joined in December 2013, and quickly discovered the mapping option, which allows users to geolocalize the pictures they publish. Black started using it to it to build a map of poverty in the US: each picture he publishes is localized on a map, and he adds a few words to give some context to the story (check out his work on the geography of poverty).
EverydayUSA’s 13 members began producing more focused work. For Veteran’s day in November, they acted as a real collective, all sharing stories of veterans at the same time. Guttenfelder isn’t opposed to working for clients in the future. “We can spread because we are all over the country. Thirteen tested photographers, with our own following, audience and social media strategy.”
This September, the joint members of the Everyday accounts announced the EverydayEverywhere initiative:
“Acknowledging that professional journalists and photographers cannot be everywhere, the group invites “everyone, everyday, everywhere” to contribute to the project by uploading their photographs to Instagram using the hashtag #everydayeverywhere,” says the press release. “Members of The Everyday Projects, as well as guest editors, will curate the images, which are posted to the EverydayEverywhere Instagram account (@EverydayEverywhere) and on the project’s website www.everydayeverywhere.org.”
So go ahead, grab your phone (or your camera if you prefer), and shoot. The guidelines: “Everyday images tell stories. Look outside yourself. Or look inside yourself and inside those around you. What makes everyday where you are?”