Snap Judgments

LSU student’s HipstaChallenge engages iPhone photographers worldwide

Advocate staff photo by ARTHUR D. LAUCK -- Samuel Gasc, an LSU student and lover of photography, says he started the HipstaChallenge about two years ago. He creates challenges for photographers to create with their iPhones and the Hipstamatic app, which lets photographers use different filters to give photos a different look and feel.
Advocate staff photo by ARTHUR D. LAUCK -- Samuel Gasc, an LSU student and lover of photography, says he started the HipstaChallenge about two years ago. He creates challenges for photographers to create with their iPhones and the Hipstamatic app, which lets photographers use different filters to give photos a different look and feel.

Every day, a thousand photographers scattered across the world receive an assignment from a 25-year-old Baton Rouge college student.

Their instructions could be one word, like frequency, dance or introduction, whatever LSU senior Samuel Gasc decides.

Gasc receives creative renderings of those words that never fail to surprise him. Frequency became a set of wind-blown waves. Dance was a flickering candle flame. Introduction conjured a budding flower.

“I still have not been let down with how people can interpret these things,” Gasc said. “It comes in so many different ways. ... Even though you think there is always an obvious solution, you will always be surprised by that not obvious solution.”

For almost two years, Gasc has sent out the daily assignments for his HipstaChallege campaign. To complete the challenges, photographers use the iPhone photography application called Hipstamatic, a program that mimics pre-digital photography to create pictures that look like they were taken with an analog camera and developed on vintage film.

Some Hipstamatic pictures look like Polaroid shots with blurry spots, while others produce photos with ultrasaturated colors or pink or yellow tones.

“You don’t know what the photo’s going to come out like. Sometimes it produces unexpected results,” said Gasc, a senior graphic design major.

The product is usually more art piece than photojournalism. While some traditional photographers may find Hipstamatic to be “low brow,” Gasc said it is more avant-garde, or experimental, art.

“Tools are irrelevant,” he said. “The method is a means to an end. What we seek to do is create.”

Last winter, Gasc’s HipstaChallenge officially became a part of the Hipstamatic company’s Make Beautiful campaign when the company began promoting the challenge via its own website. Now Gasc uses his graphic design expertise to create a monthly calendar of challenges in advance instead of sending them out daily.

Since the beginning, several of the challenge’s followers have been from outside the United States.

“To think that people all over the world are looking at a list that I have come up with, and they are all thinking about it,” Gasc said. “I have them tell me, ‘I was thinking about this all day. I went grocery shopping, I went to work and back and the coffee shop and I was still thinking about how can I tackle this theme.’ That’s bizarre.”

Gasc is exhibiting works from selected HipstaChallenge contributors in a show at the LSU Design Building that ends Sunday. He chose 10 works each from seven photographers, all representing different countries.

One, Jouk Duivis, of the Netherlands, is flying in to see Louisiana and the show. A devoted amateur photographer, Duivis has been following Gasc’s assignments from the beginning.

“The reason why I participate in the HipstaChallenge is the love for sharing pictures with the world and that it makes me more creative about how to think about capturing a certain subject on a photo,” Duivis wrote in an email to The Advocate. “And if I can’t find a way to capture the daily subject there are always other contestants who can give the inspiration thru their pictures.”

Gasc started HipstaChallenge in the spring of 2011 to develop his own love of photography. He had enjoyed taking pictures since a 2007 trip to his home Chile, which his family left when he was 3.

Before the 2011 trip, he bought a Kodak digital camera and eschewed the automatic settings in favor of its manual controls.

“It meant that I had to be able to study a scene a bit more, but the photographs were worth it,” he said.

He took 1,300 photographs that trip.

Two years ago, Gasc tried several different photography applications on his iPhone before finding Hipstamatic, which he loved. He used it faithfully for a few months, then noticed his shooting tapered off.

“My solution to that was I would have an assignment-driven thing,” Gasc said. “I would give myself an assignment every day.”

When he started broadcasting the daily themes in June 2011, he posted his assignments on the social networking website Twitter. One of this first assignments was “People arguing,” and while some of the photos from that theme were good, Gasc said, he started making the assignments a little more broad.

“I try to be a bit vague from time to time so I can provide a lot of working room for people,” he said.

In the first year, even though he had a few hundred followers, an average of 10 people a day contributed photos to HipstaChallenge. Then, he critiqued each picture, which encouraged some photographers to continue submitting.

“Sam’s very positive and uplifting comments on the pictures are such a big motivation to try and snap something nice for the next day,” Duivis said.

With graduation coming in May, Gasc keeps a packed schedule between internships and classes. The two years of HipstaChallenge work has fleshed out his graphic design portfolio and broadened his world.

“It’s already opened up communication all over,” he said.