It’s always nice to get another shot – and, when it comes to photo opportunities, the College of Charleston and its surrounding neighborhoods offer plenty of chances.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t snap at the the chance to photograph campus and the adjoining Harleston Village this Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, during the InstameetCHS tour with Jonathan Jackson, a certified tour guide, and Mark Swick, an Instagram success story (see below) and the community liaison for the College’s Yaschik/Arnold Jewish Studies Program. The event starts at noon in the Cistern Yard.
InstameetCHS is a series of tours in which novice and professional photographers and Instagram users join Swick to photograph various Charleston neighborhoods/locations together and then post their photos on Instagram under the hashtag #Instameetchs.
The event is open to the public, and no photography experience is necessary. So, grab a camera and/or phone, and come take your shot!
Mark Swick didn’t have any more photography experience than the rest of us. He didn’t have some kind of exclusive subject or the privilege of private access. He didn’t claim to have a perspective that was particularly novel or witty or surprising or provocative. He didn’t even have a camera.
So, how did the amateur photographer end up with a solo show on lower King Street, a permanent display at a local restaurant, steady sales coming from his private website and over 8,000 active followers on Instagram?
“Hashtags really are a big part of it,” says the community liaison for the Yaschik/Arnold Jewish Studies Program, whose Instagram gallery (@mnswick) ranks in popularity right up there with the official accounts of the City of Charleston (@charlestonsc) and the College of Charleston (@collegeofcharleston). “#Charleston is a popular hashtag to search; there are a lot of people who appreciate the Lowcountry landscape and architecture.”
That’s what struck Swick, too, when he first moved to Charleston in June 2012 and started exploring downtown neighborhoods on his bike, snapping photos with his iPhone here and there. He soon realized that his impressive backdrop made for some impressive images, and his bike rides started taking on purpose: to take pictures.
“I started chasing doors and windows everywhere I went, seeking them out in different neighborhoods and different communities,” says Swick, who soon had devoted his Instagram gallery just for Lowcountry landscapes and scenery.
It was that focus that gave him traction.
“It’s about knowing what you want to photograph, and in what style – that’s what makes it different from your everyday gallery,” he says. “Successful Instagram galleries have a very specific type of photography that interests a diverse group of people, and an editing style they can recognize. People want that continuity. That’s what they’re looking for when they follow you.”
To gain followers, Swick started following other Charleston photographers on Instagram, commenting on their photos often to drive them and their viewers to his page.
“I also use a lot of hashtags to reach out, join and build mini-communities,” he says. “And from there, it just thrives off of the random connections.”
The random connections Swick has made on Instagram have led to an entire new community of friends.
“There are so many really talented photographers in Charleston, and they’re eager to explain things and learn, too,” he says. “We started a Facebook page and started sharing photographs and techniques, and then we started meeting up. And that has blossomed into a really great community and really great friendships. I think meeting new people has been the best thing that’s come out of this for me; it’s helped me break outside of my comfort zone. And it’s given me a lot of different opportunities.”
It gave him the opportunity, for example, to create InstameetCHS, a series of events for novice and professional photographers and Instagram users to tour and photograph an area together. Since its start in February 2013, there have been nine InstameetCHS tours (including one that he hosted for Katie Wells’ Social Media students last fall), with anywhere from 30 to 50 people joining Swick to photograph various downtown neighborhoods, as well as Magnolia Cemetery and Drayton Hall. The photographs are then posted under the hashtag #Instameetchs.
“It’s cool to see how other people process a street or a neighborhood,” says Swick. “We’re all there together, we’ve shared the same experience – but what we take away from it is so diverse.”
What Swick himself has taken away from the whole experience is just more and more opportunity. In the spring of 2014, he co-curated Charleston’s first-ever InstaGallery (@CHSInstaGallery). From thousands of submissions, 12 Lowcountry Instagrammers were chosen to show their photography in the Real Estate Studio on King Street.
It was in that same brick-lined shotgun space that Swick had his first solo show, complete with an artist reception and … sales! Add the chunk of change to the sales from his personal website and his display at Persimmon Café, and Swick’s doing pretty well for a guy who started off without a camera.
He did finally get a DSLR camera in May 2014, and has used it pretty consistently since then on his photography expeditions – generally a couple times a week.
Still, he says, “I’m a big proponent of mobile photography and the philosophy that the best camera is the one that’s with you.”
In other words, #usewhatyouvegot.