Instagram turns student into photo celebrity

September 19, 2014 Feature Print Print

Clay Taylor is a fairly typical guy. He is a Film and Video Production major at OCCC, he owns a camera and he uses Instagram, a smartphone app used by more than 200 million people to share photos with other people all over the world.

However, one thing separates Taylor from everyone else — when he posts a an Instagram photo, more than 42,000 people see it.

The 20-year-old said he has been using the photo app to express himself for two years, but on July 31, he said, everything changed.

He became a “Suggested User” within the app, meaning the official Instagram account followed him and suggested his profile to other users for two weeks.

His official number of followers is now 42,518 and increasing daily. Taylor is one of nine “Suggested Users” in Oklahoma.

After getting a message from Instagram saying he had been chosen as a Suggested User, he said, he couldn’t stop talking about it for days.

“I about threw my phone across the room … . When Instagram suggests you, they send you a direct message, or a DM, and they just [send] like ‘Congratulations, you’ve been placed on the suggested user list.’

“ … I got the message first and then my phone crashed about five times from all the followers I was picking up.

“It’s so much, that my phone couldn’t handle it, so I had to … go on Airplane Mode and turn off my notifications, because it was going crazy.”

At first, Taylor said, he used the app casually to share pictures of what he was eating, what he was watching, sunsets, and other things he was experiencing.

Then, he said, after buying a Canon DSLR last October for video production class, he started to get more familiar with the camera and began uploading different types of photos.

“As I hung out with my friends who are all photographers, I started to slowly do photography and so it grew to the point to where I got several recognitions in different papers and then obviously Instagram found me,” he said.

“It just got to the point to where we basically go out and we go explore on our own and … we take pictures together. That’s what inspires me — when we go out and we find new places and see things that people normally overlook in a different way.”

Although he has a large number of followers and his photos have been published 11 times, Taylor said none of those experiences have changed his style. Followers do not define talent, he said.

“ … Just because you have a lot of followers doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re a good photographer or the other way around.”

Taylor encourages everyone to develop their own photography style and stick with it.

“People fade away and become non-noticable when they try to adapt their style to other people who [have] already found theirs,” he said.

Taylor said he and his friends explore all over Oklahoma with a focus on growing the Instagram Community.

This inspired him to create his own hashtag, #OnAssignmentOK, to document all his adventures.

Taylor and a friend organized an Instameet in June, where Instagram users meet up with other users, take pictures and get to know one another in person instead of solely by username.

“I try to be as active as I can in the community, because I believe that community is what’s helping build Instagram and Oklahoma in general,” he said.

“We have several photographers here and there — great photographers — but when they come together, that’s when it’s really special. You can create some really cool things.”

Taylor said his favorite shot so far was taken in the Wichita Mountains when he went camping with a friend and stumbled upon something most of us would run from — bison.

Taylor decided to see how close he could get.

“I think I got within like maybe seven feet, like right up on them, to the point where to where you could smell them. It was so bad — just being in that moment, being that close to something so big and being able to capture some of those pictures… .”

Taylor said the Film and Video Production Program at OCCC played a major part in his photography journey.

“I wouldn’t even be interested in photography if it hadn’t been for the film program here,” he said.

Similarities between film and photography, such as how a camera is operated, the lighting aspect of a photo or a video, and the arrangement of a photo, encouraged him to learn more.

However, he said, there is a difference. Photography is one shot, versus a compilation of shots used for film.

“Whether you’re documenting children in Africa, or a war somewhere, a filmmaker can take different segments and put it all in one thing,” he said.

“But a photographer only has one shot and they have to capture that.

“That’s what makes it a challenge and, in my opinion, more interesting.”

After completing his associate degree in Film and Video Production at OCCC, Taylor plans to transfer to the University of Central Oklahoma. He said he hopes to one day be a photojournalist and documentary filmmaker.

Follow Taylor on Instagram: @johnclaytontaylor. Check out his website at to see his pictures or his Facebook page at

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