Social media today is so diverse and pervasive that keeping track of your Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter is so complex, it’s an artform. This rings true for campuses like Boston College, where all of your peers are as technologically literate and connected. The “you” that potential friends, romantic interests, graduate schools, and employers will scrutinize when they search for you online must be meticulously crafted. Lynnea Bolin, CSOM ’19, focuses on making her online presence more than just a pretty summation of her life, but an appreciative aesthetic foray into the world around her.
Bolin is the seldom-seen woman behind the camera of her self-made Instagram, @elbexo. She populates her account of over 1,400 followers with stunning pictures that capture a common theme of the wilderness—regardless of whether she takes the photos inside or outdoors.
Belying her eventual status as a management and entrepreneurship double major, Bolin started her account when she was in sixth grade. She has since deleted many of the pictures from back then as a number of them were, as Bolin titles them, “awkward middle school posts.” The @elbexo account that followers now see is the product of Bolin’s primary passions. Her snapshots of mountains, forests, rivers, and waterfalls were all taken while hiking. Bolin doesn’t journey far from BC’s campus just to get that one extra follower, or 100 more of those little red hearts. As Bolin describes, her environmental account is only a derivation of her desire to document her adventures.
“The motivation is completely intrinsic—has nothing to do with Instagram or even photography for that matter,” she said. “I get all of my joy from just being in the outdoors, the pictures and the Instagram stuff always comes second to that.”
When asked how she got started with the photography aspect of her mountainous obsession, a nostalgic twinkle lept into her eye. When Bolin was 13 years old, she received her first camera, a Nikon D40, from her father. She and her friends from back home in Westchester County, N.Y., became interested in photography at about the same time, and all were self-taught. Bolin shot past the learning curve by hundreds of days spent adventuring with her companions, taking pictures and videos of each other, and the vast expanses of nature.
Unlike most artists, Bolin doesn’t have a process. For Bolin, a good picture captures the sight that her eye takes in—she doesn’t feel the need to set up expensive equipment, or lie in wait for hours for the “perfect” shot. Her goal is to capture a moment that means something to her. Every day, people witness extraordinarily beautiful things through their own eyes, and Bolin seeks to capture a picture that shows “what it’s all about.” Bolin elaborated on her sometimes spontaneous desires to record these shots.
“Some of my pictures are from my camera, some are just my iPhone,” she said. “It’s like I see a moment and I’m like ‘I really want to remember this right now’ and I’ll take the picture.”
In order to more fully capture the moment, Bolin also includes captions on each of her Instagram posts. She crafts these captions to fit with the mood of the picture itself, and also with what she was feeling when she took the picture. Sometimes the captions are serious, but Bolin isn’t hesitant to go for something funny or unusual. An example of the latter is one of her latest posts, a landscape photograph of her friend standing on top of a mountain in Boulder, Col. Bolin captioned this picture, “Not available on the app store.” As soon as she took the picture, the words she used leaped into her mind. She recalled her feelings at that very moment.
“This is something you can’t get from just looking on your phone,” Bolin said. “Something you can’t get from looking on social media is that feeling of being outside—it’s an amazing thing.”
Along with spontaneous pictures of moments and thematically oriented captions, Bolin strives to maintain cohesion on her account through the use of editing. She admitted to using Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom, or even just a filter on her photographs. The process of editing is fun for Bolin, and stimulates her already well-developed creativity, as she can change the entire mood of a picture by altering the saturation.
Putting her CSOM experience to good use, Bolin has begun stepping into the real world of marketing and design. She has interned for Fluent Grp., a marketing agency that seeks to build connections with college students, and MSD, a marketing company that focuses on brand strategy for its clients. Bolin is also a New York Times Collegiate Marketing representative, brainstorming potential marketing strategies to raise subscription levels in millennials. Using these experiences with already established companies, Bolin and her friends are trying to get their own visual marketing/consulting agency off the ground. Her startup, 429 Collective (429co), works on branding and general strategy for artistic clients. They have been helping their clients with videography, graphic design, marketing, writing, blog posts, and more for the past six months of the 429co’s lifespan.
Bolin’s Instagram account, work as an intern, and with her newest project might signify that she has been doing this for a long time. But Bolin had to put her love for the outdoors and her knack for photography on the backburner in high school. Instead, she focused on grades, extracurriculars, and applications—anything to get her into a college of choice. And that left little time for anything else, especially a time-intensive activity like hiking. But she shed the formulated presentation of herself, as she does on social media today. During her senior year of high school, Bolin found time and motivation. A friend she grew close with reignited her love for the outdoors, and they spent many days hiking the nearby Catskill Mountains together.
While the inspiration to return to the outdoors came from a high school friend, the push for taking up photography again came from a more professional source. Bolin names as her photographic muse someone outside of the world of professional photography—Jedidiah Jenkins, a writer for Wilderness Collective employs a style she tries to emulate with her posts to Instagram. Jenkins, while not a master of Instagram aesthetics, always entrances Bolin with his lengthy captions. In his posts, Jenkins tries to share the feeling he had when he took the photo—each picture is a moment and each picture is special to him. His unapologetic authenticity is something Bolin strives for with her account.
“I try to keep my posts very authentic,” she said. “I just want them to really represent and do justice to the moments that I took them in.”
Bolin tries to mainly post landscapes or moments with her friends that inspire her. But in spite of her best efforts, sometimes the pictures she likes the most don’t get the most likes. Instead, the few selfies or personal photos garner the highest number of those tiny red hearts. Her personal theory for this phenomenon is that, even though a lot of her followers are avid hikers or lovers of the wilderness, the broader trend of Instagram accounts convey a cohesive visual that is very different from her own.
Bolin believes that the nature of people’s followings contribute to this practice. For the average Instagram user, many of the people they follow are just their friends. The majority of these friends have similar accounts that they use to take pictures of themselves, their friends, or their food. These smaller personal accounts far outweigh in number the few “big” accounts. There are accounts that have thousands, or even tens of thousands of followers that post very artistic photos, but Bolin says they can sometimes be lost among the sea of average users. For this reason, Bolin believes that most of her followers are accustomed to seeing and liking their friends’ pictures of parties, beach days, and brunches. When she posts a rare photo of herself, it is more in line with habit to like it.
Many professional and amateur photographers are always searching and questing for the elusive perfect photo. Some are never satisfied—nothing they capture can meet the vision they have in their head. For Bolin, this is not the case. In fact, she has already taken the perfect picture. What’s more, by her own admission, this picture isn’t even close to perfect. The picture is of the familiar blue-pink sky after sunset, taken on an iPhone through the noticeably cracked window of a moving car. The images aren’t very sharp, and the passing trees are blurry. But to hear Bolin describe it, and why it is perfection in her eyes, is almost magical.
“I was just completely at bliss in that moment—I can even remember the song that we were listening to [“Everything” by City of the Sun],” Bolin said. “I had just seen one of the best sunsets of my life and coming down off that feeling I just felt so relaxed”
For her, the picture represents the utter peace she felt, the surreality of the moment, and the clarity with which she was experiencing her surroundings. It didn’t receive very many likes, but that isn’t what matters. Perfection, for Bolin, lies not in the quality of the picture, but in the quality of the moment.
Featured Image Courtesy of Lynnea Bolin