Instagram phenomenon Seven: Build an identity for your photos
Mustafa Seven is one of the “phenomenon” photographers on Instagram, with nearly 1 million followers. We had the opportunity to speak with him about how he became such a phenomenon and on the growing number of people declaring themselves as photographers nowadays, as well as the trend of street photography. We also picked up some tips from him on Instagram photography.
So how did you become an overnight Instagram phenomenon?
Well, I am actually a photojournalist. For nearly 17 years, I worked for various magazine and newspapers in both photojournalism and editorial positions. But photojournalism has actually become rather unsatisfying. There is a significant difference between the way newspapers really work and the sort of things I want to do. And newspaper work began taking up so much of my time that I was never able to do anything extra. So I wound up leaving the newspaper. When I realized that a whole digital revolution had taken place, I focused on the digital world and began doing work on that front. I spent six months just getting a better feel for things. In the beginning, I shared things like what I was eating, what I was drinking and even what I was reading.
How did you get nearly 1 million followers?
Right now, I have 880,000 followers. After I joined Instagram, it really became a conduit which allowed me to share my work. After a period of around six to seven months, I began to use it professionally. I also structured regular hours when I would share images so it became predictable for my followers.
We even see your photos at three in the morning. Are these linked to some sort of automatic share program?
No, I set my clock and get up every three hours to do this. I am not someone who sleeps very much anyway so I try to work when I am awake. The day is 24 hours long and Instagram works around the clock. So while we may be sleeping here, on the other side of the world, people are awake and following. So I needed to reach out to these other people.
‘Buying followers an insult to those who follow me’
Just as social media is certainly useful, it is also quite open to a certain level of misuse by others. Do you buy followers for your account?
Well, I have a group of people who respect and trust me. Buying followers would be an insult to those who both follow me or are photographed by me.
Which city, which streets, are your favorites to capture in photographs?
İstanbul. It has so much in the way of ingredients and it’s really my personal “trashcan.” I know its language, its streets and its people; I know how they are going to react to everything. It’s tough taking pictures on the streets, especially people. You have to know your city, and know the cultural code of the streets. İstanbul is simply everything for me; I feel so much more comfortable here in İstanbul than anywhere else. By contrast, I could never feel this way in Paris, where I don’t know the cultural codes of the streets and I don’t understand the language.
İstanbul throws up all sorts of opportunities to me, in terms of getting to know it, getting to see what happens between all its walls. Which is why I am, over and over again, so grateful to it. The Bosporus, the historical peninsula, the ferry boats, the thousands of streets that crisscross each another, the seagulls, the wooden seaside homes, the itinerate vendors, the streets artists… All of it. The stories you see told in my photographs are all learned from them. There is no corner of İstanbul that does not possess its own story.
Do you have any new books or exhibitions in the offing?
Both actually. I’ll have a new exhibition up in March. And I have a plan to try and get my photographs applied to the exteriors of certain buildings in İstanbul, though the details on that plan are not yet clear. It seems a little tough, we’ll see if I’m able to do that. I’d like to use projectors to try and get my photographs up… These will be sidewalk stories, I guess you could say.
‘I look at the effect photos have on people’
What sort of photographs do your followers seem to like the most?
I place more importance on the effect they have on people, rather than whether people actually like them. The black and white dramatic photographs I put out there seem to get more interaction. Some people tell me, “I look at these photographs, and then go on to write poetry and stories.” Others draw pictures after looking at my images and then send copies of those pictures to me.
What do they find in your photographs?
I think they find them very real. A digital platform offers so many advantages of course, but at the same time, it’s a conduit that is very open to manipulation. But there is a very real world offered up in my photographs.
What do you think about the opinion that Instagram has turned into a platform that makes everyone a photographer?
Thanks to the digital platform, wedding and birth photographers now abound. With technology getting cheaper, it getting easier and easier to actually produce photographs — it’s now down to just the simple press of a button — and photography has been unleashed onto the masses. And I believe this is very democratic.
Before the digital transformation, the final shot in a roll of film was always saved for something special. But now we live in an era of “shoot, erase.”
Are you a photographer who shoots everything he sees?
In seminars, I advise people, “Don’t take photos of everything you see.” I think photography is the business of very special moments and things. Street photography is no different on this front; if you head out and aggressively take photos of everything you see, your work will ultimately become unnecessarily prolific. And other eyes viewing your work will pick up on this.
What do you pay attention to when taking photographs?
People and their stories. Some of the stories I try and capture on the streets involve people and stories we don’t include in our lives, things we discount. But I think these are people whose stories are worth telling, whose lives are filled with value. For me, everything real is beautiful. And I try to stick true to what I see.
Tips for Instagram photographers
— Every platform has a particular language of its own. One needs to know this and use this language well.
— The photographs you share should have a certain style and language to them. If you take street photographs today, but then share photographs of seagulls tomorrow, this shows you don’t really have a stable style, that you are sort of messy in your ways.
— Your photography should build on an identity and this should be consistent.
— People need a reason to follow you. And this reason should be rooted in a story or maybe a certain idea.
— The content needs to be good and people need to be able to see it.
— The whole “hashtag” factor does increase how much a certain image gets appreciated. But the truth is, how an image is presented in much more important.
— Effects need to be used well on photographs.
— Not every photograph takes the same kinds of effects the same way.
Resource: Today’s Zaman