Tag Archive: instagram

  1. When the Flash Hits Your Eye

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    Perched at the corner of Elm and Howe streets, Brick Oven lacks the national renown of Elm City stalwarts like Pepe’s or Sally’s or Modern. No matter: owner Kadir Catalbasoglu maintains he runs the best pizza place in town. Grease-skeined thin crust runs $2.50 a slice (large pies: $12.95). The fridges are full of beer and Coke and locally made Foxon Park soda. The interior of the restaurant, with its assortment of landscape paintings and heavy use of decorative logs, resembles the basement of a ski lodge in 1970s Wisconsin. For this no-frills vibe, Brick Oven has emerged as a popular late-night food destination for Yalies, who increasingly have come to cite a reason for their preference other than pizza or service: Catalbasoglu’s Instagram account.

    Catalbasoglu, typically known to customers as just Kadir, opened Brick Oven in “late 1999, 2000,” he said in an on-site interview. The Instagram came much later: he only started posting (from @brickovenpizzanewhaven, a mouthful of a handle) last year. The account’s popularity among students has skyrocketed in recent months. As of publication, Catalbasoglu has 213 followers, and a typical post garners anywhere from two to 12 likes. “Everyone comes in and wants to be on it,” Catalbasoglu said.

    Most of Catalbasoglu’s shots are simple. His posts frequently feature familiar food photography tropes: smooth mounds of dough; a fridge filed with beverages; aerial shots of oozy pies topped with weavings of onions and ham. Others feature that titular wood-burning oven, often in video form.

    What distinguishes Brick Oven’s Instagram from mere menu pictography is its portraiture component. From behind the counter, Catalbasoglu takes pictures of his customers at the register; often, they pose with pizzas or containers of other takeout food. The result of all of these photos in juxtaposition recalls arty portrait blogs like Scott Shuman’s Sartorialist or Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York. But because the account ultimately exists as a form of marketing (rather than a creative project), its aesthetic is decidedly unaesthetic — which is why, of course, it’s become such a delight.

    On Halloween, Catalbasoglu took pictures of smiling angels and zombies as they waited for their pies. Last December, he photographed a menorah in the restaurant window. He sometimes captions the photographs but often does not (some recent examples on a scale of most descriptive to most affectionate: “father and son,” “loyal customer from india [sic],” “old friend,” “favorite customer” and — not to be outdone — “my true favorite customer”). Sometimes, he shares pictures of his kids.

    Jacob Riis became famous for his photographs of tenement-dwellers a century ago. He latched onto the recent invention of magnesium flash powder, which allowed him to illuminate dark boarding house interiors with a sudden burst of light. The subjects of his pictures are frozen in shock. Flash photography is new to them, and with mouths agape they are immortalized in the harsh white glow of magnesium.

    Catalbasoglu has taken this unorthodox method and made it benevolent. Nobody expects a portrait project in a restaurant, but the absurdity of the ambush only adds to the fun. Consent is key. Nobody is uploaded against his or her will. As time has passed, the Instagram’s rising notoriety means that fewer are taken by surprise. “I’ve got friends who say, ‘Put me on, put me on,’” Catalbasoglu said. “That’s how we do it.” No magnesium flash powder needed.

    All of these factors have given the Brick Oven Instagram account something of a cult following among students, particularly the nearby off-campus crowd, many of whom Catalbasoglu has featured. One friend even mentioned he belonged to an ongoing Facebook group chat with fellow Brick Oven devotees, who message one another to plan occasional jaunts.

    Catalbasoglu seemed surprised when I told him I planned to write about his Instagram, and indeed, the success of an Instagram dedicated to Brick Oven is itself unexpected. But in the end, the pairing of pizza and photography makes sense. The perfect pie and perfect shot have much in common, Catalbasoglu said. “You got to look at it,” he said. “Artistic work.”

  2. My iPhone, My Precious

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    I fantasize about chucking my iPhone off a cliff. Sharp rocks split its screen as it tumbles into oblivion. I’m certain that I would feel better without it. But when my fantasy came true and my phone fell in a toilet I’d just pooped in, I frantically fished it out, cleaned it off and rushed it to the Apple Store for a replacement.

    I am disturbed by the attachment I have to my phone. If I am in its proximity, I feel like Frodo carrying the One Ring around his neck, consumed in its power. My phone is not mine; rather, I belong to it. It is the first thing I look at in the morning and the last thing I look at before I fall asleep. I can’t make it through an hour-long class without checking my alerts at least once. As the day wears on, I develop an anxiety about my battery percentage. I go home just to charge it, or at the very least, I bum a charger off a friend like a cigarette.

    Smart phones are supposed to be tools that make our lives easier. I do use my phone to look up facts, check train times and find biking directions. But that’s not where my battery goes. It goes to the moments where I post an Instagram photo and refresh six times in the next three minutes to check for likes. It goes to the eight times I toggle mindlessly between the hourly and daily forecast on my weather app. It goes to the articles I skim and the time I spend rearranging the icons on my home screen.

    My battery goes to Facebook. How does Facebook get to me to spend so much time reading updates from people whose daily activities I don’t give a shit about? Why do I know so much about the job search of that guy I met at Borders in 2008, or about my high school friend’s ex-boyfriend’s cat? The most shameful part is how much time I spend staring at my own profile. I become obsessed with the timeline of my own life, and what it looks like to my 1,000 friends. But to what end?

    When I’m in my phone, I’m not in the world anymore. Yes, I learn things from my constant connection to the Internet. But I don’t experience anything. Sometimes when I become depressed, all I need to do to feel better is leave my phone in the house and go a day without it.

    So I do try to resist. If I can’t leave my phone at home, I uninstall my Facebook app, or change the password to something impossible to remember, and log out. I let my battery die. I bury it in the bottom of my backpack. I hide it in the living room while I sleep.

    It sucks that I need it so much. Certain services like Uber are only available on smartphone apps. Without a cell phone, I’d never be the first to claim tickets to see a famous person speak on campus, and I’ll never have the Fastest//Fingers//First when the YDN sends out pitches. I can’t even fathom how people made plans before cell phones. If I didn’t have a cell phone, how would I find someone to go with me to Woad’s?

    I’m worried for myself, and I’m worried for us. It’s untenable to think that our attachment to smartphones will ever loosen. I do have faith that people are bigger than these mere inventions, but when we stare at a sunset through a Mayfair filter, or zone out from a party to send a Snapchat, we’re only getting smaller.

    Sometimes when I look up from my phone it feels like I’m seeing the world for the first time. Seeing it the way it’s supposed to be seen. But I always look back down. I even constantly search for custom phone cases online that will match my outfits.

  3. Giving Moola to the Maison

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    Do you like nice things? I do.

    I try to fight it. I tell myself I don’t really need my hair product. I don’t really shop anymore, aware that I have far too many clothes that cost far too much. The new battlefront is dining out. I have a perfectly good meal plan — I’ve resolved to stop blowing it off by using Durfee’s to stock up on Diet Coke and later grabbing takeout.

    Then there’s my Bumble & Bumble purchase yesterday, and the incredible new blazer I got three weeks ago. Mea fucking culpa. Even committed to my present battle, I’m now realizing that I’m kinda down for Indian food. Sophomore year, I muploaded a Yale dining label for “cod loins” — perhaps the answer to consumerism is a subversive, sarcastic foodstagram?

    Much of this behavior is about personal circumstances: I grew up privileged, and I’m blessed, in WEEKEND-speak and real-world terms, to have a family that doesn’t question much of my spending. My self-loathing about buying nice things is also rooted in my experience. A resolved Marxist since I turned 12, I despise structural privilege and the idea of constantly bowing to corporate interest by handing over ca$hdolla as and when instructed.

    But I’m still certain that we as a culture — even non-brats unlike myself — afford pretty things too much weight. We do it each time we Instragram gourmet food or post some preppy perfection /confection we’re craving — we make it special; we give it power. We identify these things as possessions to aspire to in our daily conversations: “I really want the gold 5S for my next birthday!” When we tell ourselves that the product is sacred, we cut ourselves off from the choice of whether to consume it. Sarcastic as some of us are about other people’s fetishizing the product, a small part of each of us has the urge to do the same.

    Somehow, suddenly, we know we want it. More than that: it’s become a ‘need.’ The limiting factor is our resources, not our endless, artificially constructed desire.

    I’m not convinced that we really want, or need, a lot of the pretty things we stress out about getting.

    Some folks tell us that we can learn as much from New Haven as we can in Yale classrooms. In that spirit, allow me to point you towards a new object lesson in how wants, needs and consumerism can be conflated all too tightly: Maison Mathis, my new neighbor on Elm Street.

    The Maison is really pretty. It’s got an attractive French/Belgian vibe, which I know just drives Americans wild. It’s quite a nice place to study or meet with someone. The walls are just so white, and the windows so big. Consider, for a moment, that artfully placed rose in the center of each table. But the point of a coffee/dessert shop is coffee and dessert, you know? And on this score, Maison Mathis hasn’t just disappointed me — it’s broken bougie hearts from High Street to Howe. The espresso is decent, but most of the desserts, including the vaunted waffles, really aren’t worth the $5-$6 one is asked to shell out. Nothing this place is actually supposed to get us to consume is a product we might really want (at least after a first try of it).

    That means the Maison offers something we really neither want nor need. The relationship it wants to cultivate is subtle, more cunning. Here is something we are meant to ‘want’ because it has all the trappings of other luxe things we’re big on. The substance ceases to matter. This is a cunning move, one suited to the demographic many Yale students belong to — or think they should belong to. It’s also one conspicuously out of place in a central shopping street in this city with higher poverty rates than much of the nation. That doesn’t matter, though, because apparently we can be trusted to think we ‘need’ this business around.

    I don’t hate Maison Mathis. I don’t think it’s truly all that evil, and I’m not (as far as I know) a serious Marxist crackpot. It just strikes me as an especially disturbing way to exploit a mindset I wish I and those I care about on this campus could break free of. The Maison is not alone in tapping into our artificially inflated sense of what we need. Last week, I broke my boycott of Gourmet Heaven — drunk and starving at 4 a.m., I told myself the protest wouldn’t be harmed by a couple of purchases. I told myself I ‘needed’ it and I broke a picket line. Somehow, I forgot that some of the men on duty apparently live in one room owned by GHeav’s owner and are over-worked and under-paid. And I let my decision be made for me by what I thought I ‘needed.’

  4. The art scene in your screen

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    Is social media an art? My first reaction would be, no. I’m not trying to say that I don’t appreciate the way you chose Valencia and that artful blur instead of the more expected X Pro II on your Instagram of Old Campus. I do it too — and I love it — but to me those manipulations of an iPhoto just aren’t art.

    Instagram forces its users to consider the world through a photographic lens, to take a picture of something they find beauty in and share it. Though it is certainly a step in the right direction, I would still argue that it falls short of being a true art form. It and its sister, Facebook, are a source of instant gratification — you post it, I like it, you feel good. 50 likes on that picture of my friend jogging up East Rock, I must be the new Richard Avedon. I’m hoping Yale students can peel their eyes away from their news feeds long enough to see some real art.

    I’m not asking you to leave our little corner of New Haven, just x-out of Vine for a moment, scroll your thumb up to the App Store and check out these two apps.


    1. ArtStack

    This little-known, but extremely well designed, app lets you collect and follow artists and art enthusiasts with similar interests and tastes as you. You can find everything from Monet, to an up-and-coming contemporary artist, to someone who just loves to paint in his or her free time. You can also check out what’s trending within the general ArtStack community and find the coolest galleries to visit around the globe, inviting you to explore the art world beyond your screen.

    However, if you can’t seem to fit a trip to New York (or Paris) into your schedule between section, lecture and that weekly meeting, ArtStack is a good way to stay connected to what and who is happening beyond the doors of Bass with weekly email of your “stack” highlights.

    If you do manage to get on Metro North, or even travel to a closer gallery or museum in Connecticut, like the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield or Philip Johnson’s glass house in New Canaan, then you can tell the ArtStack community about it too. Just snap a picture, enter the artist and the title of the work and share it to your collection.

    ArtStack brings art to the everyday, making scrolling through collections just as easy as checking out your friends’ late night debauchery on your news feed.

    2. Sedition

    Sedition lets you “collect art in a digital age,” acting as an online auction house for limited edition contemporary digital art. Founded in London, but growing in America as well, Sedition allows its users to purchase contemporary screen art by leading artists for a very low price.

    Similar to ArtStack, you build a collection of your favorite pieces, but instead of just photographing them, you own them. After you get bored of certain pieces, you can sell them and amass a new collection.

    The art available for purchase on Sedition boasts works by leading contemporary artists like Damien Hirst and Yoko Ono. Every time you buy an original piece, it comes with a signed and authentic certificate, giving some sort of value to your online purchases.

    For artistically inclined Yale students, Sedition is an affordable, simple and accessible option for beginning to build a collection. You can display your art on any of your devices. Though Audrey Hepburn posters will always be a staple in dorm art, Sedition allows students to broaden their artistic scope. As a plus, you won’t have to worry about peeling your decorations off the walls when May rolls around.

    Of course, this move towards buying, selling and experiencing art online questions its validity. Do you really own an image if anyone can take a screenshot of it and set it as their background? Though ArtStack and Sedition reinvigorate the art scene by making it easy to access, I can’t help but feel as if the medium changes something inherent about the piece. If you put a screen between you and the work you’re experiencing, can you find that same emotional connection that you might when standing face-to-face with a massive Franz Kline or looking up at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? I’m not totally convinced. Apps like ArtStack and Sedition are the first of many such platforms to come that will make art accessible and relevant in the everyday. Ultimately, if ArtStack is a legitimate art form, maybe Instagram is too. So keep posting those pictures of Harkness, and I just might throw you a like.