Few job descriptions spark the same envy levels as ‘professional Instagrammer’. Scrolling past an art-directed brunch taken during an all-expenses paid weekend in Paris, or still-life featuring a designer candle and newly procured Chanel handbag; it’s easy to believe those who’ve turned mobile photography into a career have cracked a secret code of the digital age.
However, Gareth Pon (@garethpon) is interested in discipline, not excess. The Johannesburg-based filmmaker and photographer, widely considered South Africa’s top Instagrammer, says freewheeling creativity is only possible when you’re strong enough to put boundaries in place.
“I always try to take a photo that you can’t Google,” laughs Gareth. It’s an effective philosophy. One scroll through his Instagram and you know you’re stumbled across something special. “There are lots of guys out there who just shoot landscapes, and although they look absolutely beautiful, I set some rules for myself. I try to avoid taking photos of sunsets and I try to avoid landscapes unless it’s under certain conditions. I’m working on a series right now where I take photos of people through windows, as I’ve always loved layers. Whenever I go out, I always try to depict a different perspective and I’m drawn to things that are abstract. I’ll try to capture an image according to very specific limitations.”
There’s something magnetic about Gareth’s commitment to originality. Tagged #gpwindowportraits, his latest photo series (below) uses reflections bouncing off window panes to draw out the unseen side of subjects ranging from fellow photographers and local musicians to strangers he encounters on Johannesburg streets. Like all good storytellers, his work traffics in depth and contradiction. It’s safe to say he couldn’t care less about how to nail the perfect selfie.
“It’s always about the quality of the content and the story you want to tell,” says Gareth, who’s just been elected 2015 Digital Imaging Brand Ambassador for electronics giant Samsung and has created images for everyone from Nike to Apple . “Some people have gotten really big on Instagram by just taking one kind of picture but it’s not about taking pretty photos, it’s about the thinking and the creativity behind it. The first thing you need to think about is what you can capture and how you can make it different.”
Read our full interview with Gareth in Issue 21 of The Collective, on sale now.