The paradox with shooting photos on Instagram in Hawaii is that Hawaii itself is already basically an Instagram filter. Like, really, what added effect will “Walden” have on “This Is What Mountains and Waterfalls Already Look Like To Your Naked Eyes Here,” right?
That aside, it’s really the premise behind @InstaHawaii, the social media art project from Ian Kai, which has 808 hearts trending: @InstaHawaii doesn’t actually take its own original Instagrams per se, but rather aggregates some of the best Hawaii-related snapshots via online contests and real life gallery shows under a variety of themes (“stained glass,” “splash” and “two of a kind,” to name a few).
Kai doesn’t Instagram all that often on his own account, ironically enough. “I think sometimes I get too caught up in looking at everyone else’s photos . . . but when I do take pictures they almost always tend to be of my cat Lily,” he says, while noticing, “If you ever look at the ‘popular’ photos [on Instagram], they’re almost always of cats taken by Asian girls. I’ve got the cat part down. I’m still trying to figure out the Asian girl part.”
With this hobbyist attitude and sense of humor, Kai came up with the idea to organize an art show where “people can expect a good time, great photos and awesome souvenirs to purchase” with 100 percent of those proceeds going towards the Hawaii Arts Alliance.
“It also gives people a chance to meet others from Instagram in real life, which is probably the best thing that social networking has given us . . . that weird felling like you know someone, but you don’t know them,” he says.
Since its first tweet on Jan. 9, 2012, @InstaHawaii receives thousands of submissions for its selective art shows and hundreds for its monthly online hashtag contests. Like social media itself, participants can take their entries casually or seriously (or a little bit of both), but ultimately creativity is always encouraged.
“We definitely try and steer clear of the Instagram clichés by making our themes open to interpretation,” says Kai, aware of the all-too-common latte art and freshly painted fingernail shots that saturate the app.
“Anyone can take a great picture of a sunset because, well, a sunset in Hawaii always looks amazing, but there’s no challenge in that,” he admits. “By having the themes be vague, it really makes you think outside of the box. We really want to try and challenge our contestants to view their surroundings differently.”
Spectators can surf through the spontaneous entries like a virtual coffee table book. Clichéd or not, there’s something sort of special and comforting about being able to move through a comprehensive collection of pictures uniquely Hawaiian on a single screen in real time: sticky rice in colorful plate lunches, a keiki’s first luau, a “feet” shot of a circle of friends sporting Locals brand slippers. If Instagram is the Pacific Ocean, @InstaHawaii is the giant net that instantly catches all things Island life in the palm of your hand.