With the explosion of social media platforms, your average Friday night hang isn’t what it used to be. Spreading word in an instant, the internet generation has managed to create a far more expansive community of like-minded enthusiasts for just about any hobby you could think of. With cameras now being a standard option everywhere you go, new interest levels have risen in photography, which has seen its popularity grow in recent years to unprecedented heights. Editing tools, mobile software, and newfound methods in digital production have allowed just about anyone, with access and a little dough, to become a photographer.
Flask Mob started with the motivation to build a stronger sense of community amongst San Francisco shutterbugs, most notably the ones glued to their mobile screens all day. It was a way to get people to hang out in the city, meet new folks and become more social, face-to-face, rather than getting absorbed in the digital space, which sometimes steers us clear from human interaction more than we’d like to admit.
The concept of a photo walk is nothing new (it’s something I started HERE too with Street Meet), but Flask Mob’s approach is slightly different. Drinking, mobbing through streets at night, and having a good time are prerequisites, but the outcome might be something that not even Flask Mob themselves could have possibly realized. Growing larger by the hundreds with each meet, the concept is now being tested when it comes to continuing its evolution. The real question is: Where do they go from here? I caught up with Flask Mob co-founder Evan Thompson to get a little break down of his crew’s onward march and why you should know about its ever-expanding movement.
Flask Mob Co-Founder Evan Thompson
LUIS: What are your pet peeves when it comes to Instagram?
EVAN: I’ve seen kids post photos that I enjoy and since they only have so many followers and they only get so many likes, they end up deleting them. I’ve called them out on it—not in a bad way, but like, “Why?” It’s diluting the photographer community because people base all of their shit on “likes” and on followers. It’s getting ridiculous. Flask Mob is more like a social network where you share photos amongst friends, not with strangers. But that’s what we’re doing [on Instagram], we’re sharing photos with strangers and that’s why with Flask Mob it’s what we want it to be. Share it with us and we’ll share it with the team. Everyone’s looking at photos from each other and there’s no judgment. There’s great support and everyone feels good about the photos that they post, whether they get twenty likes on their feed or hundreds on ours, it’s not about pleasing anyone anymore. That’s why I’d like to think [Flask Mob] could turn into a social network of photographers—where people appreciate the photo, not the likes or the followers. It’s never going to be about that for us, and that’s what Instagram is about.
While most tend to agree a medium like Instagram has brought in a slew of new photography enthusiasts, there’s also some ill will from seasoned pros as far as the over-processing of images is concerned.
That’s the dawn of Instagram photographers. They get a camera and they don’t like what they shoot so they overcompensate in Photoshop, or other popular tools. And that’s where learning comes in. You can go back to any photographer’s feed, or anyone’s portfolio [early in their career] and they were processing the hell out of their shit. I don’t care who they were, a lot of people were over processing stuff at the beginning because they didn’t like their initial shot. It’s a learning process for everyone.
I’ve seen kids come out and just obliterate photos with filters and saturation and everything. I can go back to the beginning of my Tumblr and it’s embarrassing. But that’s what these kids are doing—they’re learning, we’re all learning together. The negativity is almost great, because it’s reminding you, “Hey, I’m not the best but I’m learning.”
The streets of San Francisco by photographer Jaquory Lunsford (@jaquory_lunsford)
Why is San Francisco such a perfect city for meets, like Flask Mob?
San Francisco sees it all. We’ve got protests every other week, we’ve got huge festivals, rallies, pride parades that take up six blocks—we have bike meets that travel through the city and more shit to worry about than us just trying to meet each other and have fun while getting a little rowdy. I think it was the best place to start [Flask Mob]. People see us and talk to us and say, “This is the most organized event we’ve ever seen, you’re still filling up the streets and doing a little more than we’d like,” but they’ll still come up to us and say, “Hey, stay on the sidewalk, enjoy your weekend, and stay out of trouble.” SFPD is also accepting of us. But with other cities, they’re strict. I expect LA to show up with riot shields.
Hundreds of youth carrying around alcohol in the middle of the night can be a recipe for disaster. How do you make sure it doesn’t get out of hand?
We blew up pretty quickly, so the first two [meetings] were okay, but the third one, we had some kids tagging and that’s when we sat down and were like, “How far can we take this without having permits and not getting in trouble?” Nobody wants to put money into it, we’re all doing our thing and we don’t have money to do it legally. Once we started to see the amount of drinking—which we’ve encouraged from the beginning and still do—but once we saw the amount of heavy drinking and graffiti, that’s what got us into a potentially bad situation. But since then, we’ve slowed down a bit. We’ve made time to say “hello” and get to know everyone—they’ve become our friends. Now every time that we meet, we have hundreds of people that we know and they’re helping us make sure it stays safe and not too crazy, it’s great. After we had announced, “Graffiti is great, do that on your own time, we have tons of graffiti artist friends, do that on your own time,” there was this kid that was tagging stuff [at one of our meets]—I saw him immediately and went to walk over, but before I could even say anything, someone was telling him off like, “Hey, this is great, this is fine, but this isn’t what we wanna do.” They’re starting to understand it’s not the place or time to do that. Building that friendship with everyone is helping keep it tight. Everyone now knows each other and the new people that come in get told immediately, “We get pretty crazy, but this isn’t what we do to get crazy.”
What’s your ultimate goal with Flask Mob?
When Flask Mob started, it was just a way to meet photographers in the city who were doing their own thing on Instagram. I wanted everyone to know each other and actually be each others’ friends and build a united photography community in San Francisco. Now that Flask Mob is getting noticed in other cities, this could turn into a great social network for creative people. We know people who want to start meets in LA and New York and others in Miami. It could turn into a great alternative to Instragram, with more of a focus on networking.
You guys have had 8 meets already? I know the next one will be in LA, but how do you continue evolving these photo walks so people don’t become bored with essentially doing the same thing each time?
It’s crossed our minds for sure. We want to keep it a little bit more spread out in terms of the photo walks, just because San Francisco is only so big and we’re going to run out of places to go. We’ve been looking to potentially do more exclusive photo walks, where we could do small group tours. We wanted to increase features that we do for some of these kids, so we’re going to be doing an art show with Red Bull. As of now, we’re only featuring people on Instagram, but we’re focusing on doing more art shows and other cool events for the crew outside of just photo walks. The team has produced eight [meets] now and we’re like, “Is this still fun for you guys?” It’s like throwing a house party every month and hoping it’s still fun… no, it’s not going to be fun, you have to add different elements. We’ve had a lot of dancers and models come out. I think that’s what keeps things going too—having a subject or having something that you can focus on. You can’t keep taking photos of long exposures of the street and fireworks. It’s going to die out pretty quick.
What other potential opportunities have developed since starting out?
As far as gigs and things, I’ve only heard a few kids being like, “Oh, I got followed by this cool blog or this cool company,” but nothing too crazy yet. Kids are definitely getting featured and followed and shit like that. Since we only have a presence in San Francisco, we’ve gotten a lot of local opportunities. Nothing for jobs, but definitely for features. The Academy of Sciences hit me up to come out and cover their events. They have a photo exhibit coming out at the end of the month and they invited Flask Mob to do some photo coverage. They gave us a guest list with not just us, but 50 of the community members to come out and enjoy the exhibit. The Coit Light Tower also recently did a feature on us. In San Francisco, people are really embracing what’s going on, but no real big job opportunities or anything yet.
We had a kid get an internship through Flask Mob. They were following us and saw him on our Instagram account, started following him, and then reached out to him. Now that we have a following, new photographers that have 100 or 200 followers are getting featured on larger accounts—their photos are going a lot farther than just their friends now. So it’s a great place to get discovered.
Chinatown mobbin’ captured by photographer Silas Sao (@silassao_)
People follow trends, especially on a platforms like Instagram. Sometimes following these new standards leads to getting noticed by other fellow photographers and also companies looking for new talent. Do you ever find yourself conforming to those standards?
Each person’s following is different. People like me because I was in San Francisco shooting the surroundings. So now when I take pictures of people they’re like, “Nah, cool portrait but I want to see your landscapes.” It’s getting way more narrowed down, like, “I wanna see high rooftops and you almost killing yourself standing on the edge.” It’s very weird…
It’s hard to tell—if you have 100,000 followers, of course people are going to get thousands of likes and if it’s a bad photo, of course not. Do followers mean you’re a great photographer? Never. It’s definitely getting a lot more tricky to see what people like and conforming to it or just what people like is definitely not something that we are getting into. And I know taking photographers on a route together, yeah there’s gonna be a ton of the same photos but we feature the more creative ones. People are like, “Hey, that was taken at Flask Mob? I didn’t see that.” And that’s what we fucking love. Like, “Yeah, that dude positioned this girl and this street in front of this manhole.” Whatever it is, people are doing something different.
It’s a whole lot of shit going on with what people like on Instagram and we’re not conforming to it, we just feature what looks sick. I’ll post anything—it’s literally about the people that come here to Flask Mob and it’s not about the typical, whatever people enjoy. You have a dope shot? Awesome. You have 50 followers? Fine. It’s never going to be about certain people’s standards.
Long exposure photography using steel wool by John Kim (@lasttogetpicced)
For someone who’s never been to a photo meet like Flask Mob, and have reservations or are possibly intimidated, what would you tell them?
It’s intimidating, even for me, or for anyone going to a meet. It’s awkward. You don’t know anyone and it’s rough, and sometimes there’s those cliques that hang out on their own. But when we meet and everyone meets at our spot, people mingle with everyone. I’ll come up—John, David, everyone will come up. Literally the entire crowd will come out and hang out and before that even happens, everyone is hugging you. And their friends are hugging. Everyone says what’s up to everybody. It is not anything to be intimidated or scared by. Yes, it’s a large crowd, and yes, people have been there before you and everyone knows everyone. But everyone knows everyone because they started coming and introducing themselves.
It’s really just building a great community of people. That’s all we want: A great community of people. You’re going to meet so many more people to go out and shoot with. On those nights that you’re by yourself, you can be like, “Oh, I love to shoot. Who can I go out with?” And you just met 50 photographers, and can remember the names of 20, and one of those people will come hang out and shoot with you. Just meeting people in your city, enjoying them, shooting with them, and enjoying their friendship over anything.
Flask Mob will be holding it’s first ever meet in Los Angeles at the end of this month. Keep up with them on the group’s social media accounts for exact details.