Remember how social media used to simply be about keeping up with your friends? We’ve come a long way since then, and Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the likes are rapidly establishing themselves as platforms that are not so different from any other channel of communication. We’re checking up on our friends, yes, but we also peek into our favorite artists’ progress on their new projects, and browse through green-hued photos of matcha tea right on the same app where we read about breaking news updates. With this growing diversity in content, niche and innovative usages of social channels are becoming the new norm. Our feeds now feature selfies against breathtaking views with the same ease with which they embrace activity that’s slightly more peculiar.
During our endless feats of browsing and scrolling, we’ve been noticing private social media accounts that act as independent curators of art and design. Centered around a highly specific topic, these users hand-pick and re-share content from around the Web, making their profiles into a thematic visual archive. Graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister, for example, has been experimenting with the uses of his Instagram account for some time. Starting this January, his account showcases objects his followers deem to be “the most beautiful thing you can think of”. His feed has become an ongoing exploration of our perception of beauty. There is something intriguing about the idea of virtually gathering pictures that are not one’s own. It seems that this form of content curation can reframe the images’ original context and suggest a different take on their meaning. We spoke to a few account managers that we love to learn more about the process of curating our feeds.
Accidentally Wes Anderson: Collecting aesthetics from around the globe
The picture-perfect aesthetic of film director Wes Anderson is one we’d love to be submerged in. Just think of checking in for the night at the pink, grandiose The Grand Budapest Hotel with its surrounding mountain landscape. Or standing on top of a lighthouse, looking into the distance with binoculars, as Suzy did in Moonrise Kingdom. Instagram account @accidentallywesanderson tries to do just that, staging the world as a real-life Wes Anderson movie set. Stylish, symmetrical and pastel colored, the account is a passionate tribute to the acclaimed director. But this account goes beyond your usual fan art. Brooklyn-based Wally Koval, who manages the account together with his fiancé Amanda, says he’s drawn to the positive, whimsical tone of the Anderson-esque aesthetic. For him, this aesthetic entails a sense of fantasy. “There is a level of escape,” he reflects, “something that ignites your imagination and allows you to be in a different place altogether, even if for just a moment.” And with this allure of faraway places, the account is as much about travel as it is about Wes Anderson. For Wally, it’s meant to offer a fresh outlook, “perhaps seeing the mundane or mediocre in a whole new light,” he says. “I’d like to think that @AccidentallyWesAnderson provides a daily taste of that, while reminding us that there are interesting structures and stories all around us, no matter where we live.”
Wally and Amanda manage the Instagram account with heartfelt care. The couple strive to maintain a perfectly balanced feed that functions as a mosaic of photographs. “I believe each photo I have posted is beautifully captured and is amazing in its own right,” Wally explains. “Together, they even more so exude and exemplify an aesthetic, a feeling, and an overall beauty.” In making this whole greater than the sum of its parts, Wally and Amanda plan ahead and conduct intensive research prior to each new post. Wally walks us through their posting process: “We identify what has been posted recently, thereby dictating what we will likely post next – taking into account structure type (ie: interior, storefront, lighthouse, etc.), geographic location, and prominent color.” Then they go through an astounding amount of submissions: “We strategically sift through the hundreds, perhaps thousands of photos we have saved in our archive. Once we find a photo we love, I dive further into the narrative behind the structure and location.” The story behind each photograph is particularly important for Wally, and he makes a point of accompanying each post with a detailed written description about its history. “I find the historical and architectural narrative to be equally as important as the composition of the photo itself. I want to tell a little more of the full story behind these beautiful facades, as each of these locations has so much more to them than what you see on the surface,” he says. “So many lives have been lived in and around each of them.”
Their meticulous methods and exquisite photographs have been gaining the Accidentally Wes Anderson account increasing recognition. Wally and Amanda are extending their activity outside of Instagram, with an official website, Accidentally Wes Anderson, as well as collaborations, such as their recent work with the Vienna Tourist Board. For three days of #ViennaGoesWes, the couple took over the city’s Instagram account, adding a touch of their unique aesthetic to the tourism feed. The Accidentally Wes Anderson profile has also been awarded a token of appreciation by no other than Wes himself. They were invited to be the first to feature artwork from his most recent film, Isle of Dogs. “To be recognized by Wes and his team was a dream,” Wally shares. But as grateful as he is for these opportunities, Wally is above all in it for the community. He is acutely aware of how social media can shape opinions or influence feelings, and takes personal responsibility for the mood set by his account. “The account has become a very positive place overall thanks to the community, and that is something you don’t typically see these days, especially online,” he observes. Indeed, the comments on the account are filled with heart eyes, clapping hands and countless perky remarks – and we must admit, the enthusiasm is contagious.
Shit Gardens: Celebrating eccentric gardening
Once James Hull and Bede Brennan moved to Melbourne, Australia, they were blown away by how quirky many of the gardens in their area were. Walking around the suburbs with a camera or smartphone at hand, they begun snapping pictures of over-the-top gardens that brought a smile to their faces. The two took to sharing the photos as a gag between friends on Instagram, on an account lovingly named Shit Gardens (they mean this in the most positive connotation of the word, they assure us). But social media can tell a good joke when it sees one, and the account quickly grew both in followers and submissions. This resulted in a surprising shift. “These days, the bulk of what we post on Instagram is either content we’ve found online or images that have been sent in by our followers,” the pair tells. “We love the fact that people are so on board with it as it gives everyone a chance to get in on the joke, and gives the page a more communal aspect.”
Now that their feed is almost entirely submissions or found imagery, James and Bede take their original works to the world outside Instagram. With photography exhibitions and a coffee table book, Shit Gardens is growing. But it is important for James and Bede that these real-life activities only enhance the Instagram account, and not distract from it. “Whenever these sorts of opportunities present themselves,” they say, “we’re certainly mindful of the fact that they are presenting themselves as a result of our Instagram page.” And when expanding their content to additional platforms, a change of tone is required. For publishing their book, for example, their Instagram language needed a bit of a tweak before going to print. After all, “120 pages of punch-line upon punch-line would not only be exhausting, it would be obnoxious,” they tell us. “We wanted to present the concept of Shit Gardens in a more elevated context. We’ve kept things humorous, but in a way that slowly creeps up on you.”
When not bound in a hardcover book, they let their language roam happy and free on social media. With many garden gnomes, topiary, and cacti, accompanied by plenty of irony and pop-culture references, they see the account as “a tool to add a little light to the world by making people laugh.” Unlike Wally and Amanda, this Australian duo is much more lenient with the planning of their feed. They only adhere to two general guidelines – set a mood that’s coherent and consistent, and then play with it to keep it from being repetitive. “You will definitely see certain themes if you scroll through our feed, but you will also notice that there’s a lot of variation too,” they explain. And while James and Bede refrain from posting anything too personal on social media, the two feel that for them, it has proven to be an amazing platform. “People are sceptical of it and like to paint it in a negative light, but we think it’s great if you use it in moderation,” they conclude.
Museum of Internet: Where viral memes go under the spotlight
Paris-based Emilie Gervais and Felix Magal have been operating their successful Facebook page Museum of Internet for over 5 years. Considering the staggering amount of visual content found online, they’ve created a self-proclaimed virtual museum that highlights noteworthy Web activities. Emilie and Felix compile their content from a variety of sources, mixing submissions with Web searches of their own. Even during the occasional Web browsing, the two are constantly on the lookout for the viral or cute. The visuals they decide to repost are shared just as they found them, which mostly means low-res and pixelated. They don’t add captions or credit a source. “We first created Museum of Internet to have a space to archive this emerging visual iconography we were seeing more and more online – screenshots, iphone photos, memes, etc.” Emilie tells. “Using Facebook to compile these images allows us to contextualise them back into a flow of content representative of the Web 2.0, which they are from.”
Museum of Internet is an exercise in context. Gathering the most bizzare, thought-provoking, or awkward findings from around the World Wide Web, the page then puts them right back online. This simple act manages to formulate a statement regarding our virtual zeitgeist. Emilie hopes it draws attention to behavioral patterns that encapsulate what she refers to as “so Internet”. According to Emilie, “the most interesting element about the images shared on our page for me is the direct reaction it often causes. I enjoy when new images and memes are created based on the posted image.” The reuse and duplication of online materials is an indicative feature of our time, she comments. And by highlighting deep-rooted cultural characteristics such as this one, the page might live up to its title. “Museum of Internet functions as a museum by occupying Facebook the same way Musée du Louvre, Museum of Modern Art, and all the other ‘real’ museums do,” Emilie stresses. And be it museum, fanpage or a really good gag, we love this game of re-share that it’s playing with us.