Boston and New York Instagramers Capture an #EmptyMFA

This past weekend, the group got to explore and photograph the Museum of Fine Arts before it opened to the public.


On Saturday morning, MFA digital marketing coordinator Christine Stine, the one-woman team behind its social media, welcomed a group of 15 high-profile Instagramers from Boston and New York and invited them to explore the museum for two hours before its regular 10 a.m. opening. She imposed only three rules—no touching, no special exhibits, and no “free roaming.”

With the help of two staff members, Stine escorted the group around the museum—through the glass-enclosed Shapiro Courtyard, the Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art, the newly renovated Impressionism gallery, the Sargent rotunda, the Koch Gallery, the Asian galleries, and the skywalk surrounding the staff offices.

Although the idea was to keep the group somewhat together throughout the tour, many Instagramers fell behind numerous times along the way, mostly lingering to capture patches of natural light that drew them in. They often used each other as subjects, giving precise directions—”Stay right there,” “Back up a little,” “Move half an inch to your right”—and sometimes even stepping in to move a piece of hair out of the way, all in attempt to capture the perfect frame.

About half of the photographers came from Boston, brought together by Javier Mejia, who founded Instagramers Boston in April 2012, and has been organizing meet-ups and challenges for the community ever since. The other half came from New York, led by Dave Krugman, known for developing #EmptyMet, the Instagram community building project at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that #EmptyMFA took a cue from.

Krugman has been gaining press for replicating the project in various museums and cultural institutions around the country. The incentive for all these places, including the MFA, is to attract younger audiences using social media and mobile technology—and Krugman thinks it’s working. He’s amused at the fact that even though so far, only he and his circle of influential photographers have received special access to the Met, other Instagram users continue to post their own #emptymet photographs on the app, finding secluded corners of the museum during its regular hours.

“It’s bringing them into the museum, and that’s the point,” he said.

At #EmptyMFA, the visual tools varied, with some photographers using only iPhones, some using only DSLRs, and one using only a film camera. When the photos are posted on Instagram, they’ll come from a variety of sources as well. None of the photographers actually posted live from the museum, requesting time to edit the photos before sending them off to be posted by Stein on the MFA’s account on Tuesday. “Purists,” as Mejia calls them, will only use Instagram to post photos taken on iPhones, even if they doubled up and took photos on a DSLR as well. But personally, he sees no problem with either choice.

“What Instagram provides you is a platform—a little square of creativity,” he said. “But the source of the square is not important.”

To see Instagrams from the event starting Tuesday, September 23, use the hashtag #EmptyMFA, or follow the museum and the photographers themselves:

Museum of Fine Arts — @mfaboston
Javier Mejia — @javimejia
Dave Krugman — @dave.krugman
Jose Silva — @jnsilva
Jonathan Suarez — @jmsuarez_
Karim Mustafa — @karim.mustafa
Steven Irby — @stevesweatpants
Sam Morrison — @samthecobra
Cara Llewellyn — @llewllewtoo
James Carpenter — @jamesscarpenter
John Carle — @john_carle
Ashley McKinney — @ashleymcky
Brad Romano — @bradromano
Chris Borger — @chrisventures
Courtney Perkins — @courtperkins
Brayan Mesa — @brayanmess

For now, check out a preview of the Instagramers’ work from #EmptyMFA: