Ian Robertson sat on a piece of green patio furniture along Monument Circle. The temps had just dropped from somewhere in the 90s to fall-like overnight. He twisted around in his seat pointing at various buildings, detailing the hatches, stairways and ladders he had climbed to get onto each. Robertson started — like so many young photographers — with urban exploration. Only his wasn't focused on the death-defying shots of him hanging off of rooftops that you see from young Russian and South American photographers. For him it was seeing the city in a new way and meeting people that have helped him find his passion.
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He is part of the group that you have probably already noticed on Instagram, Igers Indy. Simply put, they are a group of roughly ten people armed with iPhones. The group of photographers, historians, designers, doctors and stay at home dads is challenging our constructs of art and hosting one of the most unique photo shows to roll around this fall — Circle City Squared.
The show was a competition amongst Indy Instagramers (who entered by tagging images with specific hashtags) and was set in motion by Primary Colours' board member Keri Jeter and one of the hands at the Igers Indy masthead, Raina Regan. Jeter was sitting in a board meeting in May of this year when she caught herself thumbing through Regan's feed, wishing she could give her a solo show. Then the light clicked — why not have a show that used entirely images from Instagram? The idea seems a bit lowbrow in comparison with the professional photographer (Matt LaFary) that they originally had lined up; after all, capturing unique angles on an iPhone requires hardly the skill and sculpting of light that goes into using a true lens. But the more Jeter and the board talked about it, the more they realized the show was exactly the discourse that Primary Colours wanted to start.
"I think Instagram is a great way to get art to the people," says Jeter. "And I think Instagram is changing the way we think about art."
The show itself is meant to be laid out just like the app.
"You are going to walk in and feel like you are walking through the feed on your phone," says Jeter.
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There will be nine sets of nine photos, each section chosen from a specific hashtag. Once Primary Colours settled on the idea, Jeter reached out to Regan to rally the Igers Indy folks to help promote the show. In exchange, they were guaranteed two of the nine sets for their own work automatically. Some of the Igers people were also chosen to be shown in other sections. They narrowed down the submissions to 50-60 images per tag, then Primary Colours whittled that down. Winners were notified and asked to send in a high resolution version of their images. Roberts Camera is printing them as a donation to the show. Primary Colours has decided to sell the images for $100 apiece; giving the artists $70 and keeping $30 (to keep the lights on, Jeter adds).
"You can also see the show as a statement," says Jeter. "Do our photographs have to live forever in our phones? You know. People don't print photos anymore. They take 3,000 shots to get two great images, then they live forever on Instagram. So you can think of the show as a statement to that. Some of them do deserve to be printed and hung up on the wall.
"We want people to think of themselves as artists and I think the show really helps with that," says Jeter.
According to her, the show is doing exactly what she feels any good exhibit should — make you consider what art really is.
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"The show will probably frustrate some people," says Jeter. "I know there are art enthusiasts in town who think art should be elite, it should be high brow ... There are definitely some people who don't think that everyone should be an artist, but I disagree. Art is for everyone ... You are going to bore a lot of people if their only thought of art is a stuffy museum or something like that. It's not inspiring to everyone.
"No one has thrown any shade yet, but I am sure it's coming," says Jeter. "I would be surprised if someone didn't have something negative to say."
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Primary Colours regularly gets flak for their choices. The most common of which is when they destroy paintings during the Art vs. Art event. (In fact, a woman once put herself in front of a chainsaw in protest.)
"I can see how some people would say that Instagram is too widely acceptable." says Jeter. "I mean look at Shakepeare, for the time he was very low brow. I think that you have to make art accessible to the people."
Accessibility is an intriguing part of this show. Yes, there is a point of privilege that comes with owning a smartphone. However, that point is nowhere near the cost of shooting and printing the same number of images in film. It's no new concept that the gatekeeping has widened to the art world with the digital age. But most of us can agree with Jeter's definition of art at the most basic level.
"I know it when I see it."
At the end of the day whether this show is nothing more than curation of photos from people who have reached "social media fame" or it's a prolific examination of the artwork that we hold in our hands every day, isn't really the point. The photos can be seen as a source of inspiration or art itself. The board members at Primary Colours hope you mull it over.
"The thing that I find fascinating about Instagram is that it's changing who we think of as artists," says Jeter. "And especially photographers, because now everyone has fabulous phones with these amazing cameras.
"Who is an artist? Do you have to have gone to art school and gotten a graduate degree to consider yourself an artist? ... How do you determine success? Is it simply have you gotten your work out? Are people viewing your work? Are people double tapping that image (in this case) and giving you your "likes?"... if you are seeing an art show and it doesn't make you think like that, then you are probably missing something."
One of the benefits that many in the Igers Indy group brought up was the value of being able to see work from around the globe.
"You can learn a lot from watching other artists," says Jeter. "It's revolutionary."
Even artists like Ai Weiwei have referred to social media as a medium that's "not one that records the past, but one that forms the present condition."
What was a community of online inspiration translated into reality when Igers Indy began to meet in person and challenge one another to see Indy differently. For some, the app is a source of income. For others, it's a way to lay claim to your heritage. But no matter how they are using it, it's a conversation about the visual and personal complexities that Circle City has to offer. In the rest of this article, you will see some of the ways that photography and social media have impacted Indy Instagramers.
"Art is something that moves you," says Jeter. "And you can get that through Instagram."