"My relationship with Instagram is like a child with his favorite toy," says artist José Lourenço over email. "It took over me very rapidly and today I can't live without it."
Lourenço is a 38-year-old visual artist with a background in painting who lives in Lisbon. But thanks to a clever idea and an Instagram account, his quirky photos have found a worldwide following that, just barely a year in, is more than 61,000 followers deep.
His playful, scenic photos, often taken in and around Lisbon, usually include a rogue arm extended into the frame, holding a giant cardboard cutout of a name, symbol, or simple phrase.
Instagram users will recognize the icons immediately as those populating their feeds when someone likes or tags a posted picture. And it's exactly that kind of cartoonish imagery that Lourenço was first drawn to. He thought it would be fun to explore the different shapes and dialog boxes in three dimensions.
He quickly expanded his symbology beyond the limits of Instagram's catalog. The actual symbols are created the old-school way with cut-out cardboard and acrylic paint. But if you were scrolling quickly through your feed, you might mistake one of Lourenço's images for a funny new addition by Instagram itself.
What is most apparent in the images is a playful sense of spontaneity. By making his cardboard cutouts light enough to carry everywhere he goes ("Yes, I carry the symbols with me all the time!"), Lourenço is able to jump on those fleeting moments whenever he sees them.
Lourenço, whose paintings are exhibited in public and private collections all over the world, says his experience with Instagram has been a positive one. "People react very well to the usage of Instagram symbology and encourage me to continue the creative process," he says.
Following the positive response from the online community, Lourenço is further expanding his Instagram symbology. He'll continue to create symbols as they come to mind, but he'll build new sizes and try them against different backgrounds and objects. His growing Instagram following only feeds the project, so we can probably expect a lot more to come. "I like to discover, comment and see new images, new ways of being, be it in photos or videos," he says. "It's closely related to my profession."