In this issue, we talk to New York-based photographer and computer scientist Daisy Chaussée about the strange and capricious world of Instagram fame. Daisy’s Instagram mosaic is a dreamy study in pastries and pastel, drifting from cotton candy pink to Santorini blue. Her photos are clean, carefully composed, and light-suffused, often featuring her own big smile and long curls. In the fall of 2014, the social media platform recommended her burgeoning feed on its “suggested users” page, and she watched as her following upticked to tens of thousands of people. We spoke to her about this unusual experience, and her relationship to the niche fame that it has brought her.
Hi Daisy, thanks for making the time to do this interview!
Tell us a bit about your background in general, and why you got into photography.
In high school, I did ‘Project 365’ to take a photo every day for a year. My photos were terrible, but the project ignited my passion for photography. I took a few photo classes, which taught me less about taking photos and more about editing them, but it wasn’t until I moved to New York that I really honed in on this passion. I started using Instagram as a mini tour guide for the city! This was back when everyone was posting photos of latte art, so I used the platform to find the best coffee shops in New York. I soon became inspired to take and edit my own photos and share them with a broader audience on Instagram.
How did you feel when Instagram recommended your page? Was this an endgame that you had in mind, or did you just enjoy the creative act of sharing photos?
I was stunned and confused! I had never heard of Instagram suggesting users, so it was all very new to me. I can still remember sitting in my favorite coffee shop when I found out, refreshing every few minutes to see my follower numbers change. It was a wild moment and certainly not my endgame; I was simply enjoying the creativity of the platform.
How much space does “Insta-fame” take up in your mind? Do you think about ways to leverage your platform, or do you worry about your newfound image?
I don’t really consider myself famous, but I do think about the small influence I have. I think about how I can reach more people and what message or story I want to tell my audience. Ultimately, I try to share positivity and the beauty of the everyday.
Are people treating you differently?
People definitely have expectations about me; they form impressions of me from my feed before they’ve met me, and it sometimes changes how they treat me. However, it’s usually silly and well-intentioned such as, “I thought you only wore pink!”
Is it strange to share your life with so many strangers? Do you care about their praise or criticism?
You would think I would find it strange, but I don’t. The key is to maintain the balance between under- and over-sharing, to still keep some parts of my life private. It would be a lie if I said I didn’t care about praise or criticism. I try to make photographs and share stories without caring, but I tend to thrive on validation.
Is there anything wistful about pre-fame days? I’m thinking about celebrities who feel a kind of nostalgia for the quiet they had in their lives before their careers took off, and wondering if you feel any parallels in your experience.
I wouldn’t say I’m wistful about pre-fame days, but I definitely long for the pre-phone and pre-Instagram days. There was an ease and carefreeness about life that can be hard to find now.
In the vein of wishing for pre-Instagram days, do you feel like you can enjoy a beautiful experience without documenting it? Does it make it impossible to look away from a screen?
This is tough! Part of enjoying a beautiful experience for me means documenting it. When I document the moment, it helps me remember and appreciate it more, so I try not to beat myself up for using my phone or camera all the time. However, something that helps is carving out time to take photos; I’ll try to separate the documentation from the experience so I can enjoy both without being distracted.
Do you feel pretty secure in your ability to separate what you believe is “good” from what people endorse as “good,” through comments, likes, etc.?
I do feel pretty secure in my ability to separate these; however, sometimes I’ll change my mind about what I think is “bad” because of the engagement! A few of my most well-received photos are ones I almost didn’t post at all.
Do you have any specific photo projects that you’re working on long-term? Or goals you set?
I have a few projects that are on the back burner — one is an ice cream coffee table book and the other is a New York City travel guide — both filled with my photographs and stories. I also want to dive into graphic design more as it combines my passion for photography and my technical computer science experience.
Do you have a vision for where this goes?
Who knows! It’s crazy that this “fame” is based on a single app, and it could all disappear in the blink of an eye. So for now, I’m content with my Instagram side-hustle and using the platform as an outlet for my creativity.
Thank you so much for your time!