Students often document their lives at and around U of T. But it takes a particular kind of student to dedicate an entire Instagram feed to campus life — someone who can see the beauty, as well as the brutality, in our academic surroundings.
Jenny Qian (@jennybeverlyqian) is set to graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Human Biology, Visual Art and Art History this summer. She plans to begin a Master of Management of Innovation in the fall, and has been running her Instagram account since 2013.
“I think my profile is a good reflection of who I am and how I have changed over the years and so this ability to track these changes is important to me,” she wrote in an email to The Varsity. She doesn’t remember exactly what urged her to create her account, but recalls she started “during a time when everyone around me started to get Instagram. I chose to continue using the platform because I am a visual person and prefer using photos to express myself rather than tweeting or writing a status update.”
“As of right now,” she continued, “my profile is still very personal in content and so there really isn’t a specific goal other than posting about what I find to be beautiful. Because of this lack of focus, growth on my account is very slow. I am not sure if I will ever change though because I am happy posting about fashion, makeup, and food but also interior design, architecture, and my adventures abroad.”
“I focus on capturing beautiful moments, spaces, and ideas within my daily life. In a sense, my feed is like a personal visual board of moments that inspire me aesthetically and so colour and lighting play a crucial part in my photographs,” she explained. “I have always been posting photographs of moments that I believe to be beautiful even if the subject can be mundane.”
Adrian Berg (@AdrianUofT), an Employer Engagement Coordinator at the Academic Advising & Career Centre at UTSC and alumni of the university, has similar reasons for posting photos, even though his feed is quite different.
“I tend to focus on architecture I find interesting – especially perspectives and angles that one might not normally notice,” he wrote in an email. “I’ve always dabbled in photography as a hobby (ever since acting as co-photo editor of the University College newspaper as a student many, many years ago) and this was a great creative outlet for my photography.”
“I fell in love with UofT’s architecture as a student while spending so much time at University College and Hart House. There’s such an interesting contrast on campus of beautiful old historic buildings and striking new architecture.” He explained that as he worked on all three of U of T’s campuses, he wanted to set up his account to showcase their differing styles. Though, he warned, since he currently works at UTSC, the majority of his photos now stem from there.
“I’m always seeing possible shots as I walk on campus or in the city,” he wrote. “To me, it’s just taking the time to see the amazing things that are around us every day, that we hardly notice while running through our busy days. My best advice would be to slow down, be in the present moment and look around (and up).” He highlighted a photo he took of a staircase in the Science Wing at UTSC as an example. “It would be easy to miss the beauty of the staircase when just walking around campus, but it’s a work of art from an architectural viewpoint.”
Berg has been running his U of T architecture-focused Instagram account for a little more than two years. Like Qian, he has no specific routine for his account. “Sometimes I’ll go for weeks without posting anything (especially in winter) and other times I might post multiple times in a week.” It depends when inspiration — and the right light — strikes.
It’s the same for Lauren Reid (@l_h_reid), who’s graduating this summer with a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering. “I just post when I have pictures that I particularly enjoy or moments I want to remember,” she explains.
For her, it was a year abroad that prompted her to start posting on Instagram more actively. “I enjoy having an Instagram feed that captures important or fun things that are going on in my life or the lives of those around me so I can look back in a few years,” she wrote over email to The Varsity.
“I spent 12 months working in England and travelling to various countries where I fell in love with trying to capture some of my experiences to share them with people back home… I loved travelling and capturing some of my favorite moments all in one place was an easy way to document what I was doing and later make it easier for me to re-live some of those experiences and reflect back on some amazing times.”
But her activity on Instagram also turned out to be a great way for Reid to connect with new people. “I also enjoy being able to speak and interact with a broader network of students and STEM enthusiasts [and it] gave me a great opportunity to show some of the opportunities easily available for engineering students. Over [Professional Experience Year (PEY)], I had several people DM me to ask about my travels and experiences and for advice on how they could pursue a PEY in Europe, and some enquired about working after graduation.”
“My Instagram does not have a specific, conscious focus other than to simply portray life of a University of Toronto student who loves to go on adventures, skydive, travel and run,” she continued.
“While I receive DM’s from current UofT students, it is especially gratifying to get DM’s from high school students considering pursuing an engineering degree. Through my Instagram they see me as a normal, approachable student with various other interests outside of school and it seems to light a fire within them where they discover the world can be very exciting then they thought, and it is open to anyone.”
“Using photographs and personal anecdotes I am able to show elementary and high school students when I spoke at their schools, or at science fairs, that engineering can be fun and adventurous, and much bigger than they ever thought. It is certainly bigger, and better, than I ever thought.”
“I enjoy being a role model for young people,” Reid wrote, “especially as my background is quite different. I attended a Performing Arts high school and majored in trumpet and dance, so now graduating as an Aerospace Engineer from UofT seems a bit off brand. I love to hear students and parents express surprise.”
“If I can show students who follow me that it is possible and hopefully through my Instagram encourage them to pursue their dreams then I will be very happy. I think my Instagram also resonates with some young people because it clearly demonstrates that being an engineer isn’t just sitting in front of a desk all day. I love aerospace engineering, but I also love to travel and skydive and go on adventures with my friends, and hopefully they see that as well.”
“When I started Instagram was a way to both document my travels and experiences during my PEY and to share them easily and instantly with friends and family back in Canada. That hasn’t changed much. When I learned others were interested – either current undergrad students considering an international work term, or high school students considering engineering, international travels and otherwise just expanding their horizons – then I started to include more, and different, postings. Judging from the number of DMs I receive I think there is an appetite for this information.”
“I love scrolling through and seeing what my friends are up to or following and interacting with other people in the world you might not have ever got a chance to meet or connect with,” Reid wrote. “The platform is so much more than just posting for yourself, it allows connections in places you wouldn’t normally think to look.”
For all three photographers, sharing images of their everyday lives and experiences is at the core of why they keep posting photos. While they enjoy connecting with others, the number of followers or likes seems less important to them. Most of all, they keep posting what is important to themselves for the simple reason that they enjoy it.
“While I appreciate the likes, I’d keep taking photos regardless,” Berg writes. For anyone interested in starting to post on Instagram more actively, his advice is: “Just do it. Don’t worry about likes, just do what you want to do and enjoy it.”
Reid seems to be on the same page. “I try not to concern myself with the likes any of my posts receive. It really isn’t about that for me… I also think you shouldn’t take it too seriously. It is social media after all, which means you should simply enjoy using it with your friends.”