For many Instagram users, hub accounts can be a source of inspiration and being featured can be a game changer. For Jason, it was his opportunity to foster a sense of community.
The second (the first with celebrity film photographer, Jesse Dittmar) in the three-part series on film photographers, I met up with Jason Hunter with Restore From Backup (RFB), a film photography community. Along with Zach Parks, Hunter started RFB in April of 2019. Since that time, they added Han Phan in mid/late 2019. At the time of writing, it’s been 13 months since the inception of RFB and the team has built up their Instagram following to just over 32,000 followers. In addition to their presence on Instagram, the team started a Twitter account, Reddit sub, and a very active Facebook group.
Since I approached Hunter the first time about doing an interview for Fstoppers, he made it very clear that all of the successes RFB has had is because of the collective group effort between him and his co-curators. As you could probably ascertain based on that initial reaction, Hunter is very humble about all that RFB has achieved. He clearly hustles to post every day and get ahead with new ideas that he presents to his team, some of which they like and some of which they like a little less and are not implemented. In tandem with him, Parks and Phan post daily and also make suggestions of ways to enhance their outreach. Further, Hunter considered the addition of Phan to their team the greatest decision they’ve made since they started. He reported that Phan has a pretty serious case of Gear Acquisition Syndrome and, as such, has first-hand experience with just about every camera you’ve ever heard of. Which, as one could imagine, makes Phan a great resource to the entire film community.
Starting an Instagram Hub
As one would suspect, one of my first questions was about how RFB got started and what pushed it towards success. The day before I sat down with Hunter, RFB has reached 200,000 Instagram posts using the #restorefrombackup – a point which he took immense pride in. He told me that while their Instagram account had grown beyond what they ever imagined, they made a point to like and comment on every photo that used their hashtag – even if they did not intend to post the photo on their account. They tried to do this for as long as they could manage, ultimately succumbing to the thousands and thousands of posts every week.
When asked why they made such a laborious effort to like and comment on every post using their hashtag, he said simply that it was out of respect. They did not believe that that they were better than any other photographer out there just because they curated a hub account. To combat that possible perception, they made the concerted effort make every photographer feel like an equal and demonstrate a genuine appreciation for using the RFB hashtag. Fast forward to today where there are far more posts using their hashtags than they can possibly keep up with, their sense of community is still strong. They host IGTV sessions with loads of consistent viewers and their Facebook group has a large and active user base.
For the Sake of Film
So, why start a hub at all? I would have thought, naïvely, it would be to grow one’s own following – gaining recognition indirectly through the account you’ve built. I could not have more incorrect in the case of Hunter and the entire RFB team. It became very clear very quickly that they do it for the sake of film. That is, to build a community of film photographers for the benefit of film as an artistic medium and the benefit of the photography community at large. They accomplish much of this goal through two different approaches: giving back to the film community and building up the work of others.
When RFB had their one-year anniversary they did multiple giveaways and produced and sold a zine. The zine was open to submissions and they had hundreds. All proceeds generated through the sales of said zines were then turned right back around and put into the film community with more giveaways to their followers. In fact, Hunter did something similar on his own fairly recently. He produced his own zine of shots taken on one street near his home, all shot on Kodak Portra 400, and used all of the money that he got from the sales to then buy zines and prints from other film photographers.
Through the interview, Hunter made mention of the photographers who curate other hubs that are similar to his own in such a way that resembled friendship more than competitiveness. In fact, one of those other hubs was Drive By Film which happened to have started within two weeks of when RFB started. They were the new kids on the block compared with several of the hubs which had been around for several years. When getting started, they both hubs exchanged ideas back and forth of what was and what wasn’t working to help establish their brand and build their following. There was not sense of divisiveness but rather a sense of comradery – brought together around a common goal of establishing a healthy sense of community among film photographers while pursing independent aesthetics for their respective hubs. Another film hub has come along called Filmstead and Hunter has gone out of his way to give them advice when needed and support along the way – so much so that Hunter actually made their logo for them.
At the end of the day, the philosophy that Hunter and RFB seem to live by is to be as genuine as possible and help others when possible. To not be selective about whose photographs are shared purely based on the size of someone’s Instagram following but rather based on the quality of someone’s work. Hunter admits that not all of the work they share on their posts and stories are of the same caliber but insisted it was important to him and his fellow co-curators that film photographers just getting their start deserve recognition for the effort and passion they put into the work. That, while they do not consider the size of a photographer’s Instagram following to be a marker for the quality of their work, they understand that being recognized for their work in the form of likes and follows on the platform generally have a positive impact and can be a catalyst for young photographers to create more.
Lead image used with permission of Jason Hunter.