These days, tourists are flocking to South Africa because of its Instagrammers. No one is more aware of this than photographer Gareth Pon, who helped build the South African Instagram community up to thousands of shooters with nothing but a camera and a dream. He’s been named Africa’s top Instagrammer (yes, the entire continent) and partnered with Samsung South Africa as its Official Digital Imaging Ambassador. Gareth knows that Instagram isn’t just a place to post cool photos—it’s also an instrument of change that’s reinventing South Africa’s online image.
A scroll through his Instagram feed of 238,000 followers reveals an untapped South Africa: A place at once familiar with its sunlight and cityscapes and unfamiliar with its vibrant angles and strange characters. His photos are alight with yellow, blue, pink, and other joyous colors. Even in the photos taken at night, you get a sense of a country stirring awake.
Here’s more from Gareth himself. Be sure to tune in to our own Instagram account for his takeover this weekend.
How did you get started on Instagram?
Instagram started off as a fun alternative way to share photos of my city, Johannesburg. As a filmmaker and photographer I’ve always been one to try and find new outlets for creativity and the novelty of phone photography grew on me and was also very convenient. I was literally taking photos of everything I could, just so I could apply that Instagram filter and post it.
A few friends and myself began meeting up in Johannesburg’s city to shoot photos of the CBD (Central Business District). In a unique way, I guess it was our way of reclaiming and capturing the beauty of Johannesburg that is so well hidden under its grit and grime. These little humble meets grew and more people started joining us and this was when I realized that Instagram could have the potential to do much more than just live as an online social media platform. Seeing people come together and the community is what started my passion and it’s continued to fuel my love for the platform.
Speaking as Africa’s Top Instagrammer, why is Instagram particularly important for the African continent?
Instagram has done many good things for Africa, many of which go unseen every day. But from my own experience I can say that’s it’s put South Africa on the map in many ways. The Instagram community in South Africa continually do an outstanding job of sharing the beauty of their cities, I’ve personally heard of many visitors come to South Africa purely because of the Instagrammers they follow here. It’s amazing that some other African countries have made their way onto the map, including Kenya and Ghana. For a few Instagrammers, it has provided some amazing opportunities to go abroad and see the world, I personally have had the privilege of seeing many cities where I would have never even thought of going before Instagram. I personally feel that as Instagrammers in Africa continue showcasing Africa, we can provide a very visual entry to our continent and as the interest grows we’ll begin to see amazing potential coming alive within Africa.
Any advice for the average person to make their Instagrams look better?
Curation is key. Tell a story. Understand light and change your perspective.
Your cat’s Instagram @pontekitty has 24.3K followers! How?!
My cat Ponte got featured by Instagram on their #WeeklyFluff, however I’ve actually allowed my kitties to take a break from the online world for now. Sometimes cats just need to be cats :)
What’s your favorite place to shoot in South Africa?
Soweto. I love the street culture and mix of communities.
Why is South Africa an ideal place to live and create for filmmakers and photographers?
South Africa in many ways is still very untouched, we have unfamiliar landscapes which are unrecognizable. There are untapped opportunities and a huge brilliance that lies underneath the pre-conceived ideas of what South Africa has to offer. The stories we have here are also full of life and hold a uniqueness to them that can only be found in South Africa. I guess those who innovate and chase after a new perspective of “South African” creativity will be the ones who reveal the inner beauty and full potential of our country.
How did you grow South Africa’s Instagram community from scratch?
It really began in 2013, with a group of amazing Instagrammers. I approached various individuals in each of the major cities in South Africa and we decided to meet over the same weekend to launch the local community. Since then the community has just continued to grow through genuine interaction and people having a love and desire for mobile photography, I’ve since found that meet ups are happening all over the country, new communities are growing every day and Instagram has really taken center stage in South Africa. It’s amazing to see how a little bit of initiative and a passion for community made way for people to meet over a common desire to capture the beauty of their cities.
Who are your favorite South African Instagrammers?
This list is endless, but here are some of the one’s whose photos I’ve especially loved lately. @zenography, @daveast, @shesaidsa, @iseeadifferentyou, @southafrica, @roywrench, @levonlock, @rowaneva, @miklasmanneke, @btherad, @bhuka_andile, @alexioso