"We are in some way connected, either in the way we perceive the world, or either in the way we express ourselves," Thomas Jullien explains, and he's proven it with his untitled Instagram short film, which went viral last week.
The short assembles over 850 Instagram shots of various landmarks and iconic images—shoe and eye-makeup selfies, the Statue of Liberty, handlebar shots of bicycles, subway trains, the crowd at a particular soccer match, etc—and creates a stop-motion film that connects those images into a short narrative. By showing so many perspectives on the same sort of images, Jullien's film has the unique effect of making the world seem smaller and more connected—some of us Instagram the sunset from cities, and some of us Instagram the sunset from places where zebras end up in the foreground of your shot, but it's the same sun. "I tried to make a story of it," he says. "Make it more human."
The humanity on display in Jullien's film is part of what makes it so interesting to watch—but the impressive collection of images, and the speed with which they cycle through, is striking in the way they highlight just how many photos appear on Instagram of what is essentially the same thing. "There are a lot of quality pictures [on Instagram], but a huge amount of them will just be unseen, or even unused," he says. "Instagram is a lovely platform, but nonetheless very chaotic. Therefore, I decided to gather some pictures from it and try a stop motion."
In order to get those photos, Jullien spent a lot of time (he estimates between 100-150 hours of work to complete the project) scouring Instagram hashtags with words like "tube" or "handlebars" or "Arch," seeking the shots that would make the stop-motion animation of the film flow as naturally as possible. "Some were trickier than others, as you need the right angle from the right perspective," he says. "But at the end, you always manage to get what you want—you just need to be armed with patience."
During that process, he found himself surprised to see that landmarks, which are photographed so many times a day by so many users and seemingly never change, could come alive through Instagram. "I really felt that those were some of the pictures that looked the same from user to user," he says. "I mean, landmarks don't move, so it's easy to take the same pictures—but what changes is the position you take it from, or what you include in the pictures. I started with the Champs Élysées, as you can see at the beginning of the video. It works pretty well, especially if you have a point of reference in space to use around the motion."
While the final video draws from just over 850 photos, the number that Jullien collected is, he says, at least four times that. The result for him—especially given the video's success online—is that the human connections he drew from person to person and photo to photo in the film have become even more tangible: a number of his photographers have reached out to him after seeing their shots included.
"I've got a couple of people that contacted me who saw their pictures in the film, which I find amazing," he says. He's added them to the credits (for now, just in the video description, but he says he'll eventually recut the end of the video to include them in the film's credits properly), and his enthusiasm about those connections is palpable. "It really shows that social media is something alive!"