To explain how he first became interested in photography, Aaron Pierce tells a story about how he stole his dad's camera when he was a toddler and never gave it back. The 25-year-old says he sometimes still shoots the Nikon N80 his dad got him to replace the original, though it's hard to imagine when he finds the time.

Besides pursuing his masters in geography at IUPUI, volunteering with Indiana Search and Rescue, Pierce is the founder and director of Social Photography, an ongoing project that uses social media to draw photographers and others into conversations about the rapidly changing ways we capture, share and consume information and art. At the heart of the project is the @socphotogallery Instagram feed, which conjoins the work of some 20 photographers around the world.

"I wanted to document this global societal transition point — talk about it retrospectively some and also look forward," says Pierce, over coffee and pumpkin muffins at Mo'Joe Coffeehouse downtown. Pierce wants Social Photography to blend real life and the digital world seamlessly into a dynamic dialog about art and human connection.

"It's been a concept that's been interesting to some," he says. "Not everyone's understood exactly where we're at. Some who have interacted with the gallery don't quite understand where we're going with it, and that's kind of the fun of it."

On October 3, an exhibit at the Studio B Creative Exchange, a gallery and co-working space off of Mass Ave, will bring the virtual gallery into the real world as part of First Friday. It will run through October 30 and Pierce will host Google hangouts with the artists throughout the month. The project will also help kickoff the Spirit and Place Festival, which takes place November 7-16 and explores the theme of "journeys."

Pierce himself spent his childhood journeying around the Midwest due to his dad's job at FedEx, living in more than 10 places before settling in central Indiana.

"I love traveling and not staying in one place for too long. I'd be a happy nomadic hermit," says Pierce, who now lives in Carmel. "I love getting out, seeing new people, making new friends."

His project has allowed him to network with photographers around the world, including Zun Lee, whose street photography has been featured by The New York Times' Lens blog; Cole Rise, creator of several Instagram filters; and Hannah Harvey, who documents the life of "Dillon the Blind Cat."

The three contribute to the collective's Instagram gallery, which showcases a diversity of styles and approaches to photography. The posts come with ruminations and questions about art and social media meant to spark exchanges among participating artists as well as followers.  

• "At what point do we know too much about each other through social media?"

• "What should matter is that one is creating the best imagery that one can create, imagery that articulates one's life and the questions and passions that drive this life."

• "Surely, content making and sharing is easier than ever. But increasingly, we are losing control over who sees what, and what happens to our stuff once it's out there."

• "Can you live without social media? Have you tried? What happened?"

"He's trying to create an artist collective in the truest sense of the word," says Ryan Jehs, an Indianapolis-based graphic designer. Jehs joined the collective despite his own skepticism toward social media.

"A lot times it gives people a megaphone and ten phone books to stand on and an audience they wouldn't otherwise have," he says. "When Aaron told me what it was, I thought it was one of the few good uses of social media. [And] he's so obviously driven, it's hard not to get on board with something he's going to do."

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