Sharing Beauty and Celebrating Excellence in the Age of Instagram

The story behind one of Instagram’s hidden gems: Hopeshare

The first meeting for the Instagram project now known as “Hopeshare” happened on a rainy evening in June, 2014, at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Northern Virginia called The White Palace. The location might have been inauspicious, but the idea we discussed that night had been brewing in our minds for some time.

The project synthesized our personal reflections on photography and our observations of some of the dominant trends we perceived in the world of Instagram. The popular app had been a catalyst for our mutual photography passions. Still, we felt that there were opportunities for encouraging artistic pursuit that remained untapped—particularly for those whose use of the app moved beyond selfies and food shots but stopped short of showcasing professional photography portfolios.

The love of the craft

We both came to acquire the photography bug through vastly different paths. Stephen was the annoying teenager who mercilessly teased his younger sister for photographing every remotely memorable moment (indeed, it was one of the very few points of actual conflict they ever had). Years later, after Instagramming a few dozen sunsets from his back porch, he ruefully admitted that he might have unwittingly acquired a new hobby.

Bradley, on the other hand, was inspired by his sister’s photographic pursuits. He watched her buy a camera and then take pictures of any friend who would sit still and smile. Borrowing that camera once was all it took for him to start absorbing everything he could about the art and science of manning it. Little did he know that becoming involved with Hopeshare would inspire him to become a professional wedding and portrait photographer.

In each of our cases, however, one realization has been constant: taking time to see the world through the lens of a camera is an exercise that can provoke renewed wonder and gratitude. Landscape and portrait photography are disciplines that should leave their participants more aware of both their own smallness and their inability to perfectly capture the majesty of an alpenglow sunset, the stillness of a pasture at dawn, or the singular beauty of a human face.

And yet photography, by its very nature, is a quest to apprehend those things. Thus we are constantly wrestling with our artistic inadequacy. In light of this, we have come to realize that photography is perhaps less an exercise in capturing or apprehending beauty and more an opportunity to recognize its presence and honor it—feeble though that honoring may be.

Moreover, photography represents a unique combination of art and science. There is a delicate balance between the two: for example, a perfectly exposed and composed image can lack any sort of creative soul, while a blurry, poorly framed photograph can be ripe with meaning and emotion. The photographer’s challenge is to combine all of these elements with consistency. It is no wonder, then, that the shutter will likely click tens of thousands of times on the way to developing aesthetic excellence, intuition, and sensitivity.

But this process, while seeming interminable at times, is undoubtedly rewarding both for the artist himself and for those who appreciate his work. Every person has a unique angle on the world, and photography allows others to better see that angle through the actual lens of a camera. This thought and others were at the fronts of our minds on that night when the Hopeshare project was born.

So, what exactly is Hopeshare?

To understand Hopeshare, it’s necessary to understand Instagram. One can be forgiven for thinking that Instagram is merely a pantheon to the self-absorbed and the easily distracted. In many ways, sadly, it can be exactly that. But if one digs a little deeper, one can find a thriving community of professional photographers with whom the spirit of adventure and the creation of beautiful images reigns supreme. Unfortunately, however, this community can be rather insular, and it tends to predominantly celebrate those artists with the equipment, time, and travel budget equivalent to the magnificence of their work. Thousands of other amateur photographers who are pursuing artistic excellence with the same vigor may struggle to find online galleries for their work when they lack some or all of the above-mentioned tools.

Instagram profiles known as “feature accounts” are the galleries of the social media world; they are the primary means of showcasing one’s work and growing one’s following. Feature accounts present a curated feed of other artists’ work (properly crediting the creator, of course), often with a stylistic or geographic theme. Back in 2014, we particularly noted that many feature accounts fixated on photographers with already large followings who were based in places like the Pacific Northwest, where show-stopping vistas and vast local followings are easy to come by. While we appreciated the often stunning excellence that was being shared, we were bothered by these accounts’ lack of stylistic and geographic diversity as well as the fact that already successful photographers were getting the lion’s share of the screen time.[/caption]

In response to these issues, we created the Hopeshare feature account to focus primarily on accounts with less than 500 followers, seeking to incorporate many different styles and genres into our gallery of shared images. In short, we wanted to draw attention to the creativity of people who might otherwise never be recognized.

Encouraging and promoting the artists

Optimistic though we were, we really didn’t anticipate the incredible results of this little project.

Nearly three years in, we’ve had people from all over the world get involved, from New Hampshire to Indiana, Canada to Germany. We’ve even gotten to know many of the artists whom we have featured, and this has been a most unexpected blessing of this journey. Learning people’s stories and commiserating about the process of creating has helped to humanize the artists who were previously no more than a username and an image. Moreover, this project has helped us realize how easy it is to think of a person solely in terms of their online identity and to forget that behind the identity is a living, breathing individual with fears and doubts about any number of things—including the products of their own creativity.

Hopeshare exists because it can be easy to overlook just how important encouragement is in the creation of art. Giving voice to the creative impulse is an inherently vulnerable thing, and we wanted to do everything we could to help others pursuing artistic excellence overcome feelings of inferiority. And at the end of the day, no matter how many followers, likes, or mentions Hopeshare obtains, if we have been able to brighten even one person’s day by sharing their photography, we will easily count this project as a success.

All photos courtesy Stephen Williams and Bradley Roy

You can find Hopeshare on Instagram @hopeshare.

This article was written with Bradley Roy, co-founder of Hopeshare.

Bradley lives in Virginia, and works for the Department of Homeland Security while also moonlighting as a wedding and portrait photographer on the weekends. He has been happily married for five years, loves to explore back roads, and dreams of one day owning a corgi.


  • April 15, 2017

    Jody Byrkett

    This is great, Stephen and Bradley!

    Encouragement in the form of “what you do is good, what you do matters, what you do is seen…” is exactly what kept Lewis and Tolkien writing (and the Inklings group thriving)—it is what keeps an artist going with some kind of hope in their hearts.

    Your combined words photos are beautiful and uplifting. Thank you for sharing your own talents and bringing to light the talents of others!

  • Undeniably imagine that which you stated. Your favorite reason appeared to be at the internet
    the easiest thing to have in mind of. I say to you, I certainly get irked while people think about issues that
    they plainly don’t understand about. You controlled to hit the nail upon the
    top and outlined out the whole thing without having side
    effect , other people can take a signal. Will likely be back to get more.