Instagram, the popular iPhone and Android app, has inspired budding photographers to shoot and share their work, in real time. John de Guzman has built a massive following on the mobile platform by blending creativity, community, and business acumen.
With over 22,000 followers and a veritable maze of photos detaiing the skyscraping majesty of New York, the Manhattanite is steadily building a reputation as the go-to guy for mobile photography. His shots offer a romantic's view of the city, with towering glass, gleaming light, dreamy reflections, and swirling steel. De Guzman's unique, strong vision of the Big Apple melds a propensity for strong geometric shapes with softer atmospheres. HIs consistently entrancing photos are enhanced by his thoughtful use of filters and smart, professional framing. He's clearly in love with New York City, a place he's called home for fifteen years, and it shows.
John de Guzman enjoys the real-time immediacy of the popular iPhone/Android app. “With Instagram, it’s, ‘This is where I am right now - want to know what’s going on?’ It sounds really cheesy, but being in Times Square at three in the morning, you post something, and people are like, ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ It’s extremely personal.”
Born in Madrid to American parents, de Guzman’s interest in photography began as a child, when he and his brother would use film cameras to take quirky photos.
"We would just burn through a roll, and leave two photos," he recalls with a wide grin. "Our parents would finish it and get it developed, and it’d be me with two right hands or things around the house, or turning our faces into masks." De Guzman got his first camera in 2001. "I never really used film cameras outside of disposable ones in college," he says, "but film is the ultimate step - that’s how you learn photography. Most people don’t learn anything about it. They don’t have to."
John de Guzman
Rather than enforcing social isolation, de Guzman sees Instagram creating community. “People rag on social networks for being impersonal and distant - I find it to be the opposite, especially Instagram … it’s a visual medium, so language isn’t a barrier. It’s just as easy for someone in Japan to (engage) as someone here, so no matter what time I post, somebody’s seeing it without having to understand the caption. That has great value.”
Though he has digital SLR equipment and has made extensive use of it in the past, de Guzman has become far more entranced by the real-time quality of Instagram over the last while.
“I would walk around the city for twelve hours, get back, and have twenty gigs of photos, 900 photos, and I’d be processing the ones I want to share, then sharing them -usually on flickr - hoping someone goes to see it,” he recalls. “I used to be a pixel queen. It had to be the best -the best gear, getting the right lighting, exposure, the best photos I can take -but it wasn’t until Instagram that I started seeing value of mobile photography.”
John de Guzman
What would he like to see Instagram add? “I'd like there to be live links in my caption... web links. And I miss my favorite filters: Apollo and Gotham. I wouldn't mind those coming back.”
That doesn't mean de Guzman hasn't experienced the downside of online photography sharing. His famous shot, "Opening Skies", which detailed the twin beams of light rising from the remnants of the Twin Towers, was stolen from him and re-published by the New York Post without credit - or even his knowledge.
"Anthony deRosa was the one who pointed it out to me," he recalls. "There were people who were genuinely nice and there were assholes who said, ‘That’s what you get for putting something on the internet.' I confronted the guy who stole it, and he initially taunted me, then he was getting hammered (by critics), so he went private and didn’t respond. Twitpic never got back to me about the copyright claim either."
John de Guzman
De Guzman's celebrated "Opening Up Skies" shot. "You want to strive to find New York in your photos, and this really does.”
Currently working new digital products for a news organization, de Guzman, who studied engineering, has a huge artistic appetite that has found expression in media beyond photography. He also sings, acts, writes, and composes, and released his own album in 2009, Aiming To Climb. Experiencing his work -indeed, the man himself -made me think that, amidst the dreamy romanticism, he’s determined to blaze a new creative trail in the twenty-first century, a trail that wholly integrates new technologies and older artforms into a wider social experience that everyone can be a part of. Ergo, the appeal of Instagram.
John de Guzman
What's de Guzman's favorite Instagram filter? “Probably Hefe. I like the colors to be vivid. I like the ones that maintain some sense of color, as opposed to washed out.”
“It’s about compressing that whole process into seconds for me,” he explains, “it’s processed and it’s shared, not only (as) a simple process but shared into an extremely supportive community that values good photography. You start fitting this huge city into a square, which is really challenging. All my photos are squares -I don’t like having crops, it drives me crazy, but when you have the challenge of fitting something tall and wide into a square, you start practising with different muscles.”
Those muscles got a work out at Fashion’s Night Out in 2011. "There were fifteen or twenty of us running around the city," he says, recalling the evening. "We blew up Instagram! It was great."
John de Guzman
When it comes to Facebook’s recent purchase of Instagram, de Guzman isn’t worried. “Instagram's going to change - it's getting too big not to. I don't mind if Facebook is at the helm as it changes. I think it'll help users actually, because Instagram will have many more resources at its disposal to develop the product.”
Now he and the founders of Instagram NYC are considering the business implications and the possibility of spinning the real-time-photography app into a professional venture. They'll be holding an art exhibit at the W Hotel May 1st.
"It's a competition around our work, picking our winners," he explains enthusiastically. "They get a free stay at the hotel and dinner. It's things like that, where people are figuring out networks to advertise or broadcast... I’m really open to anything."
His propensity to see business opportunities in no way clashes with his artistic instincts, however. "I take a mean picture, can write a sassy song and write a story that'll keep you on the edge of your seat. I can also write a good business case for a new product."