If you were to sum up the movement that is #weloveatl in five words, those words might be: our city through our eyes. (Or lens.) What started as a hashtag on social media in 2012 has since grown into a collective narrative in which Atlanta fans from all walks of life participate.
#weloveatl is a free, user-generated, online (and offline) gallery about Atlanta, GA, started by four Instagram friends named Tim Moxley, Aaron Coury, Keith Weaver, and Brandon Barr. #weloveatl is photo-based, meaning that anyone who contributes to the hashtag is using photos to capture moments and share the people, places, and things that have stolen their hearts within this city.
Seeing these photos is right at your fingertips. Using your smartphone or desktop computer, you can connect to #weloveatl on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter to see a gallery of more than 150,000 photos.
If you can, catch their mobile gallery (a retrofitted bread truck) in different locations around town, as well as see the live-updated installation in CNN Center, sponsored by HLN, which broadcasts photos from the #weloveatl hashtag to the CNN Center's 2-3 million annual visitors through the rest of 2015:
Partnering with many Atlanta organizations and donating funds to the Atlanta Community Food Bank, #weloveatl is focused as much on building the Atlanta community as they are in celebrating it. I recently asked one of the founders, Brandon Barr, a few questions about this wonderful movement:
1. #weloveatl is an interesting mix. It seems partly a gallery of user-generated pictures, and partly a movement to build connection among people in Atlanta. Is that observation accurate? How would you describe how #weloveatl started and what it is today? What direction is it heading in?
Well, the hashtag originally started as a way to accept submissions for an art show, but we began to realize that the community was using the hashtag as part of a broader way to connect with other photographers and share our love of Atlanta. That’s when we knew we had a movement on our hands. Today, we connect over 14,000 people in Atlanta and empower them to tell their stories of the city and continue to try to grow the vibrant photography community in Atlanta.
2. Which came first: the Instameets or the hashtag? [Editor's note: an Instameet is when social media users get together in person and take photos of a location.] How have Instameets transformed or informed the movement that is #weloveatl?
A few months before we started the hashtag, I had kind of become a defacto organizer of Instameets in Atlanta. So once we identified that one of our goals with #weloveatl was to connect this burgeoning movement of photographers, we decided to make monthly Instameets one of the ways to do that.
3. You’ve hosted galleries in MARTA stations, CNN center, and other locations. Why was it important to you to take the #weloveatl hashtag offline?
That’s really our reason for being. The four co-founders of #weloveatl – Tim Moxley (@tmox), Aaron Coury (@the_atl_aaron), Brandon Barr (@texturl), and Keith Weaver (@keithweaver) -- met through Instagram and social media, and by meeting offline we created this great thing. And we think that's the amazing thing about the #weloveatl community – when we connect offline to shoot the city, to do creative projects, to display our work at events, to raise money for real people struggling in our city – that’s when we do something great. It’s about taking amazing people [who are] creating amazing stories online, and knowing that together, we can create an even more amazing story.
4. What is it like creating collaborations with different Atlanta entities? From galleries to businesses to farms?
It’s great. There are so many amazing things happening in Atlanta, and we love collaborating to bring awareness to them.
5. You’ve seemed to grow a lot in a few short years, from Kickstarter campaigns [in order to turn a bread truck into a mobile gallery] to collaborations with HLN. How do you keep up with the momentum of a movement like this? Do you say "yes" to every opportunity that comes your way? How do you resist saying "yes" to every opportunity that comes your way? Have the partnerships come organically?
Keeping up with the momentum is one of the main reasons we've expanded to a volunteer staff of seven people and worked towards becoming a non-profit organization. We are actually very selective with the opportunities we move forward with. We get a lot of people wanting to do awesome things, more than we could ever actually take on. So we choose the projects and opportunities that we think will be best for the collective story the #weloveatl community is creating. We’re just stewards of that community, really. It’s all about the amazing things they are doing that surprise us every day.
6. What are some of your favorite posts?
After three years and over 150,000 submissions, it’s too hard to narrow that down. But the photos we’ve featured on the @weloveatl Instagram are always favorites of the curatorial team.
7. From your work with The Inside Out Project, would you say that #weloveatl is street art?
That particular project was street art, and all of our galleries, installations, and projects have an element of non-traditional public art to them. Driving around a [truck-based] art gallery, turning a subway station into an art gallery, doing a large wheatepaste mural, or installing galleries in non-traditional public spaces like the CNN Center – they are all about bringing the online offline, playing with non-traditional presentation of art, and bringing the celebration of Atlanta’s streets back to the city streets.
8. How important is it for proceeds from #weloveatl to fold back into the community? For instance, proceeds from selling prints at the mobile truck went to the Atlanta Community Food Bank.
It’s very conceptually important to that project that the sales of that project go to the Atlanta Community Food Bank – it’s a food truck for photography that provides actual meals to people in need. And as we become a non-profit, it’s will always be our goal to partner with and help other non-profits in the city.
9. What has the response been from your more visible efforts, like the collaboration with HLN?
The response to all of our bigger projects has always been overwhelmingly positive, and I think each one also energizes the #weloveatl hashtag and community with new faces, new stories, and new directions. It’s exciting.
Find out more about #weloveatl at www.weloveatl.org. And check out this cool video that BBC did on #weloveatl in 2013: