The Instagoddess and her 70,000 Disciples
We speak to CAROLINE CALLOWAY: a fresher who studies History of Art and has 70,000 followers on Instagram.
Twenty-two-year-old Caroline floats elegantly into ‘Afternoon Tease’ where we are meeting, sporting green silk trousers and a top ponytail.
We cut straight to the cake stand. She opts for Carrot but only, she informs me, because she is hoping I will choose the Chocolate Guinness Cake. She is a regular so I take her word for it. When our coffees arrive we get cracking.
Right, Caroline, let’s make a start. Why should we read your blog?
The reason why I would read my blog is to feel less lonely. Social media is often incredibly depressing, and instead of seeing pictures of parties you weren’t invited to or friends hanging out without you, I hope my photos are comforting in their normalness. They all have an honest story. That can be anything from an aristocrat’s ball in Italy to a horrible meal from the canteen.
Do you find yourself exaggerating ‘adventures’ to make them more interesting?
I definitely don’t exaggerate anything which is why some of the stories are on such a minor scale. The story becomes the way I write about it and not so much what happened. In any non-fiction I feel the details that get blurred are what happened when – very mild chronological details. I’ll change that around perhaps just to make the story simpler. Sometimes if I can’t remember what someone’s said I’ll make it up. What is really important, however, is for my followers to know and to trust that everything I write truly happened. I have only ever posted one photo that wasn’t mine and I customised it to make it my own. Everything I post is me, unless my DoS is asking in which case it’s all made up. Oh, and that girl that looks like me is a stunt double.
How do you juggle the blog with work and other commitments?
I am still trying to figure that out! I recently turned in my dissertation so I had a week or so of not posting anything. But it oscillates quite fiercely. But hopefully by next week I’ll be back to posting every two days or so. I try not to get too methodical about my posting or worry too much if one photo has fewer likes, for example, because otherwise the whole thing becomes very toxic. I do often find myself replying to a follower’s comment before a text from my own mom! I think I’m too inside it perhaps.
Is your Instagram a priority in your life?
It’s not so much a priority like “I need to exercise today. I really ought to do that”. It’s more that my blog is so much more fun than everything else in my life. It’s less a priority than naturally buoyant on my to-do list. What doesn’t get emphasized enough, I think, is the emotional value my followers provide me in terms of positive feedback and even motivation. The reason I started writing a lot of it was because I started getting more comments like, ‘I love your stories! keep writing’ and I was like, “well that’s a great coincidence because I really want to be a writer”. And this is going to sound really corny but I feel very privileged be able to share my life and do it through writing, which I love – and that people respond to that.
Do you feel more or less lonely with 70,000 online followers that you don’t know?
David Foster Wallace said: “Fiction is one of the few experiences where loneliness can be both confronted and relieved.” Social media has become one of the biggest sources of loneliness in the modern world, because everyone puts together a highlight reel of their life. That’s something that’s hard to antidote with books or art or cinema because it’s just a totally different medium. With my Instagram I try very hard to not glamorize it. As I said the only things I ever alter are chronology and dialogue because I want everything to be exact and how it actually happened: the good, the bad and the unbearably lonely. I think one of the best antidotes for the loneliness that social media causes, is seeing other people lonely in the medium of social media.
How many of your followers have you met in real life?
Of 70,000 people? Who do you think I am?! I only know like 1,000 people in the world! I’m quite hermetic. That’s adorable!
How do your parents feel about your huge online presence?
My dad is the vice-president of his company and yet he still doesn’t know how to turn on a computer. He has his secretary print out his emails, he handwrites his reply and gives it back to her to type up. He still calls Google ‘The Google’. So he is completely unphased by my blog. My mum will send encouraging texts like ‘I liked your last post darling.’
Do you think of your blog as a kind of art?
I think there are lots of pre-conceived ideas about social media, like that it has to be in real-time and the photos have to be your own and you can’t spend a long time on it and that you can’t draw on the images – although that’s now changing with snapchat. I don’t abide by these rules in that I’ll often spend up to four hours on a post and I’m always looking for new ways to play with my photos.
Where do you hope to go with your blog in the future?
One day I would really like to write a novel. The genre that interests me most is the humorous essay. I’d love to do something like that. It’d be nice to read my writing on a page rather than a screen.
What’s your favourite thing to photograph?
I’ll tell you what I don’t like to photograph and that’s group photos of friends posing somewhere. There are excessive amounts all over social media. The person who uploads the photo is always the only one who looks good. I think that’s a huge crisis for our generation.
What is your motto in life?
I feel like these are the kind of questions you would ask someone who was famous assuming that they would have an answer to that. Famous is not a word I associate with myself. I am very far removed from that… If I had to think of one I would say that adventures can be big or small.
Do you prefer New York or Cambridge?
I actually spent my 21st birthday in Cambridge because it was the day of my interview. It was possibly the least glamorous way to celebrate. But have you ever seen ‘Girls’? Do you remember the scene when Hannah looks in the mirror and says, “You are from New York, therefore you are just naturally interesting.” I think when you say you are from New York people want to listen.
How do you deal with criticism?
I’m almost hesitant to say things because it might open the floodgates of negative comments but the only negative comment I’ve received on my Instagram account made fun of my ex-boyfriend’s feet. He’s a runner and they were really gnarled and gargoyle-like. It was a picture of us standing barefoot in a garden and they were like “Ew your boyfriend’s feet look disgusting.” I was traumatized! I was like everyone hates my Instagram account. How will I ever be able to keep going?
Perhaps an interview with the Tab wasn’t the best idea then?
Oh I won’t read the comments. No way. I’m so sorry – not to you, to the negative people who are writing them.
Just before leaving, I noticed her ‘instagram friendly’ phone case. Namely an extra battery pack for sustained use. I decided to photograph the key to her success. She took my phone off me after a few rash snaps and said:
“Are you ready for this? I’ll take a professional Instagrammer photo for the article and you can be like “Oh Caroline took this. This is an example of Instagramming at it’s finest.” *SNAP* I hope you love this…”
“Off the record, I would recommend Valencia for that. In the geekiest way possible.”