Marta Verdes- Montenegro
Storytellers are a crucial element of travel - they write the books, take the pictures, document the culture and landscape - all of which inspire us to take our first step. The medium in which these travel stories are communicated are constantly evolving and more and more I find myself drawn to visual platforms, such as Instagram as a primary resource and tool for inspiration and research.
The Californian west coast is now synonymous as the epicentre of the social media revolution and home to the handful of companies that have transformed the way we interact with each other and the world. When planning our trip to L.A I knew it would be an opportunity to gain an insight into how it all works and what the future may hold.
Some of you may be familiar with Minh T of @thismintymoment, he is part of a new wave of ‘influential photographers who have attracted a huge following on the Instagram. Minh T is not your cliche ‘instagram personality’, but rather a digital storyteller and photographer who has carved out his career by capturing the beauty of the built environment.
I have been following Minh T’s profile and decided to contact him to see if he would be willing to shed some light on the inner workings of his world and how he stays ahead in an ever more crowded space. “We can meet at Sycamore kitchen in Labrea if you like? We can also go to Platform in Culver City. It's like a new shopping center. There are also lots of galleries and interesting buildings in Culver City. Are you planning to see anything there?” he suggests through a direct message. It will be my first time in L.A and Culver City had not even been on my radar so what better place to begin.
I arrive early giving myself enough time to indulge in my morning coffee ritual. As I open the door, Minh suddenly appears so I ask him if he would like a coffee too expecting to begin with the customary tradition of coffee and interview. “No, I’d rather an ice cream.” he says with a smile. The answer catches me by surprise and is the first sign of Minh’s spontaneous personality. After getting his Matcha ice cream, Minh doesn't miss a beat and we begin talking whilst exploring the neighbourhood on foot.
I was curious about his life and if he ever conceived he would be working in the way he does today. “I never took photography too seriously until Instagram came along, so maybe four years ago I started to take a close look. The whole world of Instagram intrigued me but at the time I was just following people” he confesses “When I was young I was very into in anything creative, art, photography and things like that, but I had the vision that I should study something more practical. So I studied degrees in engineering and architecture. However, after I graduated I actually went to graphic design because I was more into the whole Internet community, you know?” he says. His answer was surprising, maybe due to the quality of his work I expected background in photography or a clear connection with the photography industry.
“Personally I’ve always taken photos, especially when I was younger, but what I noticed early on was that I liked to tell stories through images. That’s the reason why I studied architecture and graphic design. There are so many things that I want to capture and show. So, around three years ago is when I started to post on Instagram”. He explains, “Posting on Instagram can give you the instant power to tell a story, to express your aesthetic. I’ve just realized that your creativity is like a muscle and that muscle has to turn on to be fit. When you tap on it every day, you wake it up.” He tells me all this between bites into his ice cream. “Oh, wait!” He exclaims suddenly, focusing his eyes at the corner of a parking building “I love this corner. Sorry, I’m going to take a quick picture and I’ll come back here later”.
A few minutes later Minh returns tapping something into his phone, when he finishes intrigued about how he approaches his work I ask him “What is your process when you create?” after moments thought he replies “Usually I don’t have anything in mind, I let the spaces inspire me. What I love is finding those places that nobody goes to, like a diamond in the rough. In L.A. there are still a lot of places that people don’t know about that. So, when I drive or just wander and I see a corner that inspires me I pin the location on Google maps so I can come back later when I create the story in my mind.” “Instagram for me is just a tool, it helps my creativity by forcing me to take pictures even when I don’t think I want to. It’s hard to keep feeling inspired, you know, like when the work you create is not good like the last ones; this work is not going to have enough engagement... but I heard a really good piece of advice for when you are in that situation: think of your work as if it’s a journey not just an individual work. So, what you do today or tomorrow, are just pieces in your puzzle that is part of your journey. It’s doesn’t have to be perfect every time as the bigger picture is better. Just create!” he says
We made a stop at Arcana, a book shop specializing in new, rare and out of print books on 20th-century art, architecture, design and photography. Without hesitation, Minh dives into its shelves. I was curious to know Minh’s thoughts about Instagram’s future and the communities around it as social media has undoubtedly redefined and augmented some professions and people have struggled to adapt to this change. “ Instagram opens my new doors. It’s how people research nowadays. A lot of editors, magazines and companies are looking at it. But at the same time, I’ve got comments like, you aren’t a real photographer! So what is a real photographer? Creating art, creating imaginary is an expression. What qualifications do you need to be a photographer? Do you need a studio, a specific camera? I don’t think that really matters. I see Instagram as much more democratic than traditional channels and because of this I’ve been lucky, but I feel that Instagram might not exist in the future. I hope I could be considered a photographer because it’s my true passion and I feel it is the way I can make my mark in the world”
There are many titles you could try and attribute to Minh, Instagrammer, social media influencer, photographer etc, however, after our conversation I personally feel our roles are much more fluid than ever before and as such I find it unnecessary to try to categorize Minh’s work: “LA is full of beautiful architecture and I do a lot of research for all of the cities that I visit. I think it is one of the most exciting parts of my job, discovering places that even local people don’t know.” He continues “But I think one of the most important lessons I’ve learnt so far is to be present and to see, instead of just look. Because seeing is to use your eyes with intention and when I choose to see, I see beauty everywhere even in the most mundane places”