If you are as frequent a visitor to Instagram as I am, there is a good chance you've run across a colorful rainbow umbrella in your feed over the last several months. In addition, there's a great chance that one of those umbrellas was originally started on its journey by Jill Emmer, also known as @shineonyoucraydiamond. I've seen a few other 'traveling object' projects, but Jill's is likely one of the most widespread and successful. I decided to have a chat with her to learn a little bit more about both her and the project. There are now approximately 400 photos of the umbrella in her #shineonyoucrayumbrella tag on Instagram; this conversation is interspersed with a few of her hand selected favorites.
photo by @hello__jo
Let's start with the basics. Tell me a little bit about who you are and how you discovered Instagram.
I grew up as the "girl with a photo habit." In grade school I remember bringing a little camera with me to field trips and family vacation. In college, I was the girl at the bar and college football games with a camera (pre-mobile phone cameras!) And a few years later, I became a proud member of the proverbial "mamarazzi" - using my kids as my subjects on a regular basis. So, photography has always been a love of mine. It wasn't really an art form though. It was more a way of capturing a moment. My husband teases me about my obsession with "time and space" because I often say things like, "just a year ago he was crawling!" or, "I remember grandpa pulling bluegills off this pier one after another only a few short years ago. I wax nostalgic. I carpe diem. So... for most of my life, my photos never were about composition or symmetry, or anything like that. They were to capture those fleeting moments that make my heart sing or cry.
Then, a little over a year ago, I started a public Instagram account. I had a private one for a bit before that, but I noticed that none of my friends liked my more "artistic shots"... so I anonymously created my IG account and posted a few landscape and deer shots. I will never forget the excitement of a stranger liking one of my shots! It was beyond thrilling and it gave me a bit of courage to continue to share photos.
photo by @smallmoves
After that I started to make random friends from all over the world, and suddenly, I didn't feel so anonymous anymore. I was becoming a part of a community! It took me SIX months to tell my old, non-instagram friends about my new friends and the new world I was actively participating in! By then, I had strong friendships, a healthy following and a wee bit of confidence.
So, as you can imagine, my Instagram friends mean the world to me. Without their encouragement I would never have had the courage to share my photos. Thanks to their support I am pretty much bursting with ideas and creativity! It is just so fun!
photo by @hannahargyle
So what inspired you to start mailing an umbrella off to random people?
The traveling umbrella started after a number of Instagram friends asked me where they could buy a similar umbrella. So I mailed mine to them! It really made my heart soar to see a little part of me in their hands. It became a physical way to link "virtual" friends from all over the world. It truly makes my heart sing to see my friends with my umbrella. This project seems to be the perfect bridge between my artistic side and that sentimental, nostalgic side I've always had. Little by little, the list of people who wanted the umbrella grew, and my simple act of mailing it turned into a full fledged global project. I now have several hundred people interested in the umbrella - instagrammers from all over the world - and 7 umbrellas are out there right now! At this moment, [May, 2015] there's one in Minnesota, San Francisco, Boston, Australia, Rome, London and Malaysia.
photo by @moksva
What's been your favorite aspect of this project? Anything that surprised you about it?
I am torn! I have two favorite aspects of my umbrella project!
First, I love the connection it has given me to other people on Instagram. It has given me a physical connection with dear friends. A perfect physical representation of our mutual love of creativity, community and the art of photography. Many new friendships have been created because of this project. People usually get to "meet" the next person they pass the brella on to. It gives me great joy to see beloved friends from all over the world with the umbrella in their hands. People are now starting to recognize the umbrella in different countries!
Secondly I love the wanderlust. I love the notion that this big bright rainbow umbrella is living a glamorous life as a world traveler. Something I have always dreamt of. Since I can't travel the world right now, at least my umbrella can! Many times when people receive the umbrella, they use it to show off the area they live in. It has been near a red telephone booth in London, adding color to Times Square, used as a prop at a world wide Instameet in Milan, Italy, glammed out in LA, snowboarding in the Catskills, taking a beach day on the Gold Coast in Australia, and alongside some beautifully colored walls in Malaysia.
photo by @golden2dew
Anything else you'd like to add?
Yes - I would like to tell you that I am looking to add on a charitable aspect to my project. So many well known instagrammers are signed up for this project, that I think it would be a great way for a company to get some exposure. I would like a company to sponsor the project (i.e. they pay for shipping or something, and then donate a bit to the charity I choose for each person that has the brella. In return, that company would be mentioned with each post.
I would love to find a company that would be willing to partner with me to help this traveling umbrella have a cause. It has connected us through our phones, through the mail and through our passions - I would like to see it connect us through our hearts as well.
photo by @neumarc