The little instant camera icon on your iPhone where you post photos of drinks and grainy concert shots, along with the occasional nature snaps, is where Brian Kaiser unlocked a giant world of travel, new friends all over the world, and a new business.
One of Columbus’s pre-eminent Instagram stars (more than 67,000 followers as of press time) still holds down his day job with the Ohio Environmental Council, but has taken his passion and his budding talent and translated it into new business proposition. Wonder and Wander, a marketplace for brands and mobile photographers, was designed by Kaiser as a one-stop shop—a hybrid between traditional talent agency and a creative agency.
“The idea came to me as a solution to several problems I noticed as I became more engaged in the Instagram community and more established as a photographer,” he said. “First: how do photographers with large audiences connect and work with brands in an authentic and fair way? Secondly: how can emerging photographers with a unique voice translate their online success and passion into a career.”
This month, as Kaiser prepares to hang his first public show of some recent shots under the same title at Thank Yoga Studio, (614) focused the lens on what makes him wander and wonder:
Have you been continually amazed by how vast and connected this Instagram world can be?
It really has been amazing. Even more important to me than the overall number of followers has been the friends I’ve made all over the world through Instagram. I have friends in London, Malaysia, Brazil, Guatemala, New Zealand, and almost every state in the U.S. Anytime I travel to another city—I just mention where I’m headed on one of my posts and within hours I have a half dozen people that are willing to meet up and show me around the city. The community is really incredible like that.
To that end, one thing I’ve found amazing is that via Instagram photographers, who sometimes can be a competitive bunch, seem much more collaborative and supportive. Do you find that to be true?
I’ve never really run into that on or off of Instagram but I definitely think the Instagram community is really collaborative and supportive. Just by the way it’s designed—the default way to interact with people is to “like” their photo. That reinforces a kind of positivity. I also think the diversity of styles and skill levels on Instagram creates a space where people can connect over their shared love of photography and be inspired and supported as they progress. I owe a lot of where I am to the photographers I met through Instagram, who shared their favorite locations with me, showed me a cool editing technique, or simply stood in front of my camera when I needed a subject. I’m fortunate to have connected with guys like Adam Elkins (@bigmanjapan) and Javi Gutierrez (@javi_gutierrez), who are constantly pushing me to get better—to think about new ways to approach my photography, and most importantly, are always down to go out and shoot.
Building on that, does this bridge the gap between “amateur” and “pro?” Do these distinctions really exist in the same definition anymore?
It does to some extent. But the truth is, the entire photography industry is evolving. Now that everyone has a camera on their phones, emerging artists who didn’t have access to a formal education in photography, or who can’t afford an expensive full-frame DSLR, can find an audience for their work. That doesn’t mean they don’t have to pay their dues, but in some ways this removes some of the traditional obstacles and, maybe in the process, blurs the lines between amateur and professional.
When starting W&W, did you have any concern about monetizing or co-opting something that had started very organically?
Not really. One of the things that I think makes Wonder & Wander unique is that we see the artist and the brands we work with as equals—as co-collaborators. This approach ensures the content we create is authentic, engaging, and original. If I can create a space where people can pursue their passion and turn it into a career, then I’ll be happy.
What continues to provide inspiration for your shots? Does it get more challenging not to duplicate yourself in this medium?
I’m always pushing myself to improve and progress. Sometimes that’s by working on composition or my editing. Lately though, I’ve been trying to spend more time at the outset focusing on the concept and getting outside of my comfort zone. One of the great things about Instagram is the sheer amount of inspiration that’s out there—if you are willing to go look for it. It’s easy to get too comfortable doing what works or falling back on what’s familiar. But if you’re not growing and challenging yourself, what’s the point?
What surprises you most about what you uncover through your work?
It might sound egotistical but what surprises me the most is my own creativity. Sometimes as I’m setting up a shot I have no idea what I’m going for and then, out of nowhere the idea falls into place. And when it does, I know immediately that I’ve found it. It’s almost like magic sometimes. Even in the moment, I can barely articulate what I’m looking for but when I see it, I know it, and that feeling is unlike any other I know.
Thank Yoga is located at 29 E Fifth Avenue. For more on Kaiser, visit wonderandwander.com, or follow @brianmkaiser on Instagram