Wander around a neighborhood or two and you'll instantly notice that Philly is jam-packed with incredible architecture and beautiful design. Be it historic, modern, intricate, decaying, subtle and even wacky, it all combines to tell one hell of a story about our city. As it turns out, the best way to experience this story might just be through its diverse set of doors. That's where #PhillyHomePortrait comes in. "It started through Instagram, and you'll occasionally get the comment of someone who would like to visit Philadelphia based on, you know, these home photos." Those are the words of Instagrammer extraordinaire Billy Cress when he describes the #PhillyHomePortrait movement, a popular hashtag on the photo sharing site that he started with his friend and fellow 'grammer Austin Hodges. We caught up with both of them to get a better idea of how it all started, what are their preferred tools of the trade and, most importantly, how the hell they get so many likes on each photo. Without further adieu, we present Billy Cress, a.k.a @billycress on Instagram, and Austin Hodges, you know him as @AustinXC04.
How did the idea for #PhillyHomePortrait get started?
Billy Cress (@billycress):I'm not really sure honestly. It just sort of unfolded. The residential areas of Philadelphia are my favorite to explore. There's a lot of seriously interesting and unique homes here. It's just fun to document them in the style we've created. They're everywhere so it's an easy project to work on daily.
Austin Hodges (@AustinXC04): People on IG [Instagram] have been telling me that I should make a book on the homes that I photograph. I really wanted to but didint know how to go about it or where to start. I found Billy on IG & noticed we take familiar (and sometimes the same shot) photos. So I asked Billy back in late January or early February that we should combine forced and make a book together.
Tell us about the tools - what kind of apps, phones, cameras and other gadgets do you use to get these awesome shots?
@billycress: I just shoot with my iPhone. It's a pretty great camera when you use it correctly. I primarily use VSCOcam and Retouch (the free one) to edit my photos. I don't own a DSLR but I'm working towards getting myself one. As I dive a bit deeper into photography, it seems necessary.
@AustinXC04: I just use iPhones Camera app & edit in VSCO Cam. That's it! I find simplicity to be the best tool & that goes with editing.
What do you look for when shooting a door? Is it always spur of the moment or planned in some way?
@billycress: Just something that I find interesting. I'd say it's just about always unplanned, organic and a found moment.
@AustinXC04: I usually look for colors, looks & age. It's always spur of the moment but I do plan what area I'm gonna walk for hours in. Sometimes when I'm not planning on shooting I walk by one that stands out and a snap it.
What are your favorite neighborhoods for doors? Have you been surprised by some of the doors in 'hoods that are off the beaten path?
@billycress: When I take these home photos it's just about enjoying a walk through a neighborhood or two. I like them all for different reasons. I suppose if I had to choose some favorites, I find myself coming back to a few more than others: Fitler, Rittenhouse, Fairmount. But my time living in South Philadelphia saw some great walks- exploring Pennsport and the surrounding neighborhoods. Sometimes the average homes make for a better subject.
@AustinXC04: An area that I got a lot of good photos would be Fitler Square, but I do enjoy the average joe neighborhoods to the rougher neighborhoods. Those neighborhoods tell more of a story & have a longer history.
Have you ever been approached by a home owner basically like, what the hell?
@billycress: Thankfully no. I have gotten some pretty weird looks though. I always worry if someone would think I was invading personal space. I did have a man, very proudly, thank me for thinking his home was interesting in Kensington. That would be my hope for anyone who caught me snapping a photo of their home.
@AustinXC04: Haha, well only three times: Once I was taking a photo of a cheesesteak/pizza spot around 22nd & Passyunk. This guy came out and asked if I was with the insurance company. Another was in South Philly and a guy came out speaking loudly in a language I didn't know. When he was done and went back inside, I took the photo. This last person didn't yell or was mad but was curious. I was taking a photo of his neighbors house. I told him that this persons home is awesome and I would like to photograph it. He smiled & said that his neighbor would be happy knowing someone found his home nice and would take a photo of it.
You've released two books already and another is on the way — what's next?
@billycress: Well we're in the preliminary process of making a 3rd that will highlight average or the more run-down homes of the city. I think a goal would be to move towards finding a publisher as well.
@AustinXC04: Well, basically we're planning on making a third book. This book will be more of the average joe/rougher sides of Philadelphia. Not all houses in Philly are prime & perfect.
How the hell do you get so many likes on each photo? Do you have a secret or just a kickass following?
@billycress: I hope it's because people enjoy the photography I share. @instagram made me a suggested user a while back, so that definitely helped more people find my gallery.
@AustinXC04: Sometimes I wonder that as well haha. We have a good amount of fans who enjoy the work we do and always want to see more.
I know you've shot a ton of doors, but any that stand out in your mind?
@billycress: This is one of my favorites:
@AustinXC04: There's a few but it's really hard for me to pick one favorite. The ones I really like are in South Philly.
How did you guys get hooked up with Cory Popp to shoot this video? Is it part of a series or more of a one-off thing?
@billycress: Cory sent me an email out of the blue explaining his interest in making a story about the Philly Home Portrait project. After checking out some of his work and seeing how talented he was, I was extremely flattered. There was no way I could have done something like that without Austin, so I responded and explained the project wasn't just mine and if Austin could be involved, we'd love to. It's more of a one off deal explaining the reason behind the project.
@AustinXC04: Cory contacted Billy first. Originally it was going to be just Billy being video tapped. Billy asked me to join cause me and him shoot the same subject. It's actually apart of the series. I never saw it as that until I saw the finished video. It flows really well what me and Billy do.
Will the books continue to only contain your photos or do you plan to use tagged photos in the future?
@billycress: I think the books will just be our collaborative art project, but we have discussed doing something involving the hashtag and everyone's photos that have been tagged.
@AustinXC04: For the books, our own photos. I brought up to Billy that I want to start a website for the tagged photos on IG. That's all I have for now, but will plan more out soon.
Lastly, what are some of your favorite Instagram accounts to follow?
· @trashhand - one of my favorite without a doubt. His photography is so foreign to me and I think that's why I enjoy it. He composes photos beautifully.
· @alexstrohl - gorgeous landscape photographer from Vancouver, BC. He has this really specific color palate that's just plain beautiful. Most of them almost look like paintings to me.
· @visualmemories_ - soft New York moments. Skylines, lots of vignettes, street photography and even some home portraits. Very mysterious. He or she has a very specific tone to the entire gallery and it's refreshing.
For more information on #PhillyHomePortrait, hit up one of the links above or check out their Twitter feed listed below.
· Philly Home Portrait [Cory Popp]
· Homes of Philly [Twitter]