Social Media Strategy: Cole Barash on Sequencing Personal and Assignment Work

March 11, 2019

By Holly Stuart Hughes

Photographer Cole Barash likes to think of images in sequences. Whether he’s editing his work for a book, a zine or a gallery exhibition, he says, “I typically think in a conversation of images. It’s about the relationship of one image to another, communicating an idea or message.” He has carried those same principles to social media.

When he posts images as a gallery on Instagram, he thinks about selection and sequencing in the same way he would when editing a book. “It makes a difference what the opening image is versus the photo in the middle,” he says. “The first page of a book is a title page and, in some of the series I share, the first slide is a title page.” Someone scrolling through Instagram might see only his title slide, he acknowledges, “But people who know will dig deeper.” In choosing the second, third and subsequent slides in the Instagram album, he looks for variety in the compositions—“if they are pulled back or close up”—and tries to create a pattern.

© Cole Barash

Clothing company Filson commissioned Cole Barash to follow U.S. Forest Service smokejumpers. © Cole Barash

Among the creatives who have dug into his galleries is veteran creative director Nick Lipton. He says he has been following Barash for two years, after coming across a gallery of three of his personal images on Instagram. “To me, they were completely original,” says Lipton. He sees the “experimental nature” of Barash’s work as his strength, and adds “what he chooses to show publicly is always good.”

Caroline Smith, visuals editor at Topic, says she was impressed by the way Barash used Instagram albums to share an assignment he shot for Topic. In June 2018, Barash had photographed a woman who, like her father and grandfather, runs a commercial fishing operation in Rhode Island. Once Topic published the story, Barash created an Instagram gallery that opened with a title slide, “My Old Man + The Sea,” followed by single images, diptychs and a layout of four images.

He has created Instagram albums showing other assignments, too. In 2017, creatives at Filson, makers of rugged outerwear and luggage, hired him to document smokejumpers in the U.S. Forest Service. The Filson creatives had seen Talk Story, the book Barash self-published in 2014 about the surf culture on the north coast of Oahu. Filson gave him a budget and free rein to shoot the smokejumpers as he wished.

© Cole Barash

The sequence of images from Barash’s instagram. © Cole Barash

The smokejumpers work in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. “Anything was going to make a pretty photograph,” Barash says, but he wanted to push the story further, shooting posed portraits and “abstract still lifes” of objects, such as the smokejumpers’ tools and “a weird part of a tree.” Filson had proposed having one of the company’s catalogue designers lay out the book, but Barash fought to maintain control. “That’s a huge part of my process. The design is such an essential piece in communicating an idea,” he says. He chose to work with a designer with whom he had collaborated on previous books and zines.

To share the project on Instagram, Barash photographed still lifes of the book and selected spreads laid out on a gray background. Whether photographing framed prints in a gallery show or a bound book, he says, “I take time making sure the pictures of the objects look good, because that’s important.” He is currently working on a fine-art landscape series, where he has made his interest in linking images explicit: He sews the prints, using a needle and yarn. In Instagram albums, he shows the stitched prints in closeups and in installation views.    

© Cole Barash

Cole Barash has used Instagram to share installation views and closeups of prints from his ongoing series, “The Sound of Dawn,” in Instagram albums. © Cole Barash

Barash’s Instagram posts have led to assignments. A creative at “a big agency”—Barash isn’t at liberty to say which one—hired him to shoot a three-year project. “He saw me on Instagram,” Barash says. The commission, his biggest to date, requires him to “interact with subjects” the way he interacted with smokejumpers.

Barash has also begun using Instagram Stories. He estimates the time he spends as a viewer on Instagram is “split 50-50 between going through stories and going through posts,” and he assumes the same is true for other Instagram viewers. His stories are usually “more fun and looser” than his albums, he says. When he’s traveling, for example, he creates stories from “photos of weird things” he sees. “It’s a new thing to experiment with,” he says. “You don’t have to be too serious about it, but it’s another way to tell a story or show a sequence.”

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Related Articles:
How 4 Photographers Approach Social Media Sequencing and Storytelling

Cole Barash’s “Talk Story” Explores Oahu’s Famed North Shore

How Photo Editors Use Instagram to Discover Photographers

How Topic Finds and Hires Photographers for Its Visual Storytelling

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