With Instagram, going from small screen to gallery wall is a snap

Many of the people gathered in the sleek Santa Monica space were leading double lives.

What they did in the workaday world was not what had brought them there.

On this night, they'd shed that pay-the-rent reality — of managing buildings, of building them, of arranging titles for car loans. They'd also shed the names they were known by in it.

They had come together a block from the beach as their alter egos: xtoofur, kevturner007, jelloet.

Those were the names printed in bold on the badges they wore on lanyards — badges that, flipped over, simply said ARTIST.

All were users of Instagram, the app that helps people take, edit and share photos on their cellphones.

In the past, most had seen their work mainly on those small screens. But here it was — blown up, stretched on canvas, hanging on a wall.

The show at the Hamilton Gallery was fittingly insta: open for one night, for four hours, from 6 to 10.

It had been organized by Instacanvas, an online marketplace for Instagram images that are reproduced on canvas, cellphone cases and greeting cards, as framed prints or acrylic photo blocks.

Instagrammers who show their photos on Instacanvas receive 20% of each sale. But this night the selected work was up for auction to benefit the nonprofit environmental group Heal the Bay.

On the walls were 94 prints of all sorts.

A seashell washed over by a wave on a beach. A dog's mouth open wide in a yawn. Car lights on the 110.

But the tiny black-and-white Shirley Temple in rabbit ears standing on the head of a giant brown rabbit?

That was one of a number of works that would be hard to label, strictly speaking, as photography. In some, multiple photos had been mashed up into one. In others, words and images had been added. Colors had been changed. They had, in a way, been painted, not with brushes but with technology.

Some self-defined iPhoneographers reeled off the names — Snapseed, PicTapGo, VSCO Cam, Blender — of the apps they had used to tweak images by playing with exposure, color, focus and layering.

Kevturner007, who as Kevin Turner works in construction, said he had used a digital camera but took 400 separate photographs to get his painterly image of a saguaro cactus in the Sonoran Desert at night, starry sky transformed into streaks of white light.

Kchensays, a.k.a. Cal State Fullerton marketing student Kevin Chen, said he wakes up each morning dreaming of photography. For his work on the wall, he'd combined a photo of giraffes he'd taken in Zimbabwe with another of clouds he'd captured over Chino Hills.

Lots of people had seen the result. More than 1,600 had clicked to "like" it on Instagram.

But online approval is one thing. Experiencing it in person is another.

For the four hours of the show, Chen and his fellow artists sipped wine and soaked up the scene, watching people examine their work.

That made them proud, and so they held up their iPhones, perhaps to prove to themselves later — as they went about their everyday lives — that what they had experienced had been real.

nita.lelyveld@latimes.com

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