The Instagrammers of the Bay Area Femme Cartel
by Marthine Satris
Earlier this year, I was walking down San Pablo around where Berkeley and Oakland rub elbows, and I saw this flyer inviting anyone, no matter whether you identified as an artist or not, to submit Instagram photos to an art collective called Femme Cartel for a show in Oakland. I was arrested by the casualness of this call for art, and the democracy, and the challenge: hey guys, you think you’re so artistic with your tilt shift and your Valencia filter? Submit and find out.
Their flyer encouraged women, people of color, young folks, and LGBT folks in particular to press send. It was a very East Bay outsider moment at the same time that the fine art world has been inflating itself to obscene proportions in New York and London. But being the Bay Area, where graffiti art decorates Facebook’s headquarters, it had the techno-utopian vibe, too (bring art to the people and the people to art… using an app!). I was charmed by the irony of paper flyers stuck to telephone poles asking for Instagram photos to be submitted to their website. A neighborhood appeal and a virtual one.
Femme Cartel, as I found out via googling and boldly filling out the contact form on their breezy website, is spearheaded by two young women from Oakland who use their art world and PR savvy to curate shows that show off the contributions of women to urban art.
I met up with the Femme Cartel founders, Christina and the incredibly-named Femily, at Awaken Café in Oakland on one of these stupidly hot days we’ve been having in the Bay Area this summer. Femily was wearing silver hashtag studs. They explained to me that the show (called “Beyond Breakfast and Selfies”) might seem like a leap from their earlier shows, which featured painting and drawing. But Emily pointed out, “When you are walking along and you see graffiti, you’re blurring through all this shit and then you see something amazing, and that’s kind of what it’s like with your Instagram feed. There’s a lot of breakfast, and selfies, and then there’s a gem, and you live for those gems.” They’re hoping to create a feedback loop between the gallery show in Oakland and people’s use of Instagram–they want to see visitors to the show incorporating more fine art into their feed, and these 60 talented photographers infiltrating the art world.
The following 10 artists are a cross-section of those 60, who were whittled down from the 150 who submitted work. Most were women; it seemed only right to highlight women here, too. Some are professionals, some amateurs, most are local, and they’ve all now been inducted into the Cartel. May they rule us wisely.
Amber Schadewald (@aschaedewald)
“’Found your teeth in the trash’ is an image of some dentures I found at the SF dump.
I’m beyond amazed at what accumulates in our city’s waste bins and the lifecycle these objects take on once deemed ‘garbage.’ While a pair of dentures may not ‘recycle’ well from one person’s gums to another, I would fill all my pockets with discarded chops if given the opportunity — these pearly (nearly) whites wouldn’t be the first set of fangs on my mantel.”
Kris Austin (@kristellaface)
“The Goblin photo was taken during an adventure with my sweetheart; we love to explore the run-down beauty of Oakland. The dog was running loose and had a stealthy, wolf-like quality that I loved. I think it was stalking us with the hope that we would drop a taco. I’ve always been a photographer and I write and create other things, but I’ve always reserved the term ‘artist’ for other people. This is the first time I’ve ever submitted anything to a gallery and it will be my first show.”
Sarah Deragon (@sarahderagon)
“My favorite photo in the show is of my partner reaching out for our white cat, Nigel, in my photography studio. It had been a long day of shooting and the cats love it when the background paper is down, they just have a field day, so it is a fun memory, a beautiful moment in an afternoon of my life. That’s the beauty of Instagram, sharing beautiful moments of our lives.”
Sarah is a photography teacher and has this advice about improving Instagram shots: “I think folks should take more time processing their photos before posting and be more creative with what they’re shooting. Instead of taking just one photo and immediately uploading it, take three to five photos, pick the best one, process it through an app or two, and then put it up on Instagram. AfterLight is an incredibly cool app you can use to brighten photos, crop them creatively, add frames, and even light leaks and fun filters too.”
Courtney Cerruti (@ccerruti)
“I shoot a lot of pictures when walking around San Francisco. I took this picture one morning while crossing the street to get my morning tea. It was probably 10 a.m., and this woman looked as though her night was still going instead of a sleepy weekday morning just beginning. I loved her confidence, and her walk. This piece is called ‘Strut.’
Instagram has become a part of my everyday art practice. Instagram fosters such a creative community that often translates into the real world; I’ve meet many artists and makers through Instagram. Participating in the Femme Cartel show is another way to bring that community together. I’ve done several collaborative pieces with fellow artists as a way to engage more. Earlier this year I created a show called #3636Project which included 36 different artists locally and from around the world. I also recently started something called #socialsketch with a fellow instagrammer and painter, Michael McConnell, aka poopingrabbit.”
Ebony Haight (@ebonyh)
“When I was sixteen one of my teachers said to me, ‘So you’re an artist.’ There was a flood of emotions associated with this: pride, excitement, fear. Even though it sounded right at the time, it would be over 15 years before I started openly referring to myself that way. Yes, I’m an artist. I’m someone who feels a persistent need to look closely at, obsess over, and engage with things, and to try and understand life by capturing, crafting, and sharing my experience and impressions.
These photographs were taken at Scribe Winery on a trip to Sonoma I took a couple months ago. Apparently the Hacienda, where these pictures were taken, was used to house bootleggers during Prohibition!”
Sharlynn Velez (@sv1)
“When I came back to the U.S. after being evacuated from Japan in 2011, following the earthquakes, I was so happy to see that some of these old signs were still around, but I was also saddened that so many of them had been replaced with poorly designed, cheap plastic crap. I decided to start photographing them because I wanted to document them. As I got more skilled with shooting and editing my sign photos, I realized that this was something more than mere documentation: I was creating art that helped people see the beauty that I see in them.
I’m a founding member of the #signgeeks community [on Instagram]. We plan trips to locations densely packed with vintage neon signs, and on these trips our friendships have grown into a family. Currently there are over sixty people in our core group.”
Kenny Robinson (@notkendra)
“Cats make the perfect subjects for an Instagram portrait because we can read anything we want in their expressions: quizzicality, haughtiness, disdain, love. I got Instagram right around the time that I joined a Facebook group called “Yes I Do Want to See a Picture of Your Cat.” My cat Homer was a big hit, and the number of cat pictures that I took probably tripled.
Having my pictures chosen for the show meant so much to me. I have always loved taking pictures, but the technical aspect of composing a shot is pretty much lost on me. F-stop, shutter speed: I can never remember numbers and equations. Having a digital camera/phone has really opened up the possibilities for me. Having strangers see my photos and say to themselves, ‘We like these enough to have them in our show,’ feels like validation as a photographer. It is an amazing feeling.”
Rachel Welles ( @rule_of_red)
“This portrait is of one of my dearest friends, Reid, also known as Ruby Blue Gender-Bender in the local drag scene. He’s come a long way, and this portrait marks one of her early days of being out publicly in drag. It was taken outside of El Rio on a sunny afternoon a couple years ago, while we were waiting in line for Hard French (a local monthly queer party). I really like it because she is glistening and really herself here.
As a teen, I was aware of my queer feelings, but my immediate environment was not as welcoming. I wanted there to be more of us, or at least more of us that were out and not afraid or ashamed of our identities — whatever they may be. I wanted that so bad that I uprooted from Hong Kong (my home town) to San Francisco about a decade ago and found a haven of queerness. I’ve always documented this feeling that I sought out, whether it was the people I was around or at events, and I try to celebrate that in my personal work. As overused as hashtags are these days, I personally enjoy exploring ones associated with queerness. It makes all of us feel like we’re not so alone in this universe.”
Jane C. Allen (@janecallen)
“I don’t usually scout locations to photograph but the two photographs that are in this show are unique exceptions. The photo that I took of the yellow chair on the sidewalk was right by my home in Palo Alto, and when I saw it the first time, my phone was out of batteries, and I was really hoping it would stick around so that I could photograph it on my next time around. Lucky for me, and now us, it was.
I’ve always been an artist but just in the last ten years have started to care about actually documenting the things I view in life. Most of my photography I capture with the intention of using it as a catalyst for multiple exposure art or the composition for other non-photography pieces.”
Vivian Chen (@vivianchenphoto)
“Inspired by a post-Christmas road trip with my husband up Highway 395, I set an intention for myself to slow down and go outside at the beginning of this year. I documented that road trip on Instagram and I was reminded of the simple beauty that can be found in nature. One of those photos is ‘Manzanar,’ a photo I took at one of our stops along Highway 395. I love how the light falls in this dusty dreamy landscape with the bare tree and the yellow tumbleweed. The Sierra Mountains in the distance gives it a feeling of infinite space.”
Beyond Breakfast and Selfies, at Rock Paper Scissors Collective in Oakland through Aug 2014.
Mostly recovered after a long bout of grad school, Marthine Satris is an editor and writer in the Bay Area. Her name is not pronounced the way you think it is.