An Empty Stadium, Filled With Instagram

Last weekend Instagram hosted a “Worldwide Instameet” — a global event in which groups around the world get together in their own cities, take photos, then share them on Instagram.

The Joburg edition of the Worldwide Instameet took place last Sunday at FNB Stadium, otherwise known as Soccer City.

WWIM announcement

Announcement for the Joburg Worldwide Instameet.

I must confess that I wasn’t as excited as I should have been about this Instameet. I was utterly exhausted on Sunday, having just returned from two weeks of travel around South Africa and Lesotho. Plus I wasn’t sure about the venue. FNB Stadium is the most beautiful athletic stadium in South Africa — possibly one of the most beautiful in the world. It’s an inspiring piece of architecture. But an empty stadium seemed like a lifeless place for an Instameet to me.

But I dragged myself there, because I had promised my friend Gareth (founder of @igerssouthafrica) that I would. Gareth is one of Joburg’s most talented filmmakers; he was shooting a video about the Instameet and asked me to be part of it. I feel a special big-sisterly affection for Gareth and couldn’t let him down. (Plus I am vain and wanted to be in the video.)

I was right about being exhausted: By the end of the day I was ready to collapse. But I was wrong about the venue: It was perfect for Jozi’s edition of the Worldwide Instameet. I’m so glad I went.

Those of us shooting Gareth’s video — maybe 20 people or so — arrived a couple of hours early and gathered outside.

This is the only shot I took outside of FNB Stadium, also known as “the Calabash” because it was designed to resemble a traditional South African pot. I brought along my new Johannesburg snow globe, which I received as a gift on the #MeetSouthAfrica trip. (The hand holding my globe belongs to the great @LeboLukewarm.)

When we got inside, the stadium was indeed empty. But I must admit that it was pretty cool hanging out on the field, getting my makeup done for the video and pretending to be a rock star.

Heather and Hairy Knees

Rock star selfie with Matthew Figueira, aka Fig, aka @hairyknees. Thanks to our makeup artist, the lovely @paularoo.

Obligatory empty stadium seats photo. #wwim9 #wwim9_jhb #igersjozi #discoverjoburg

A post shared by Heather Mason (@2summers) on

Empty seats.

There's a child on the AstroTurf. #wwim9 #wwim9_jhb #wwim_za

A post shared by Heather Mason (@2summers) on

Refentse Mwase, aka Ree, son of the great @unclescrooch and @mrs_scrooch, chills with his sippy cup on the artificial turf.

As we finished shooting the video, I felt tired and cranky. The thrill of the empty stadium had worn off. I was starving. I briefly considered sneaking away before anyone noticed.

Then a buzz started to build. “There’s an army outside,” I heard someone say. We went outside and indeed there was an army there. Dozens, actually hundreds, of people. I wish I’d thought to take a photo of the group when I first got outside but I was too overwhelmed. We poured back inside and onto the field.

An army of Jozi Instagrammers gathers for a group photo. At the last Worldwide Instameet that I attended, a bit more than a year ago, there were 20 or 25 people. This time there were 200.

The empty stadium, which has more than 90,000 seats, was suddenly full of people. People of every race, color, and creed. Couples, big groups of friends, singles, and families with children. iPhones, Samsungs, Nokias, point-and-shoots, film cameras, and DSLRs. (Maybe even a few Blackberries.)

We gathered for a massive group shot. We collapsed onto the field all at once and pretended to be dead. We introduced ourselves, over and over, by name and by handle. We toured the stadium with a lively guide. We held up giant picture frames and shot selfies. We went off alone, in ones or twos, and shot quietly on our own. Laughter reverberated, echoing off every wall.

We wandered upstairs as the sun went down. At the top of the Calabash, we found magic.

Last one for tonight: Golden hour inside #FNBStadium. #wwim9 #wwim9_za #wwim9_jhb #smsa

A post shared by Heather Mason (@2summers) on

Sunset through the windows of the Calabash.

This instawalk was a family affair. #wwim9 #wwim9_za #wwim9_jhb

A post shared by Heather Mason (@2summers) on

Like mother like daughter.

Pure. Magic.

For Gareth’s video, each Instagrammer came up with a statement that summarizes his or her feelings about Instagram.

My statement was: “Thanks to Instagram for introducing me to an amazing group of visual storytellers, who have now become my closest friends.”

That pretty much sums it up. Here’s the video.

Single Moments from Gareth Pon on Vimeo.

Gareth, I have a confession. Sometimes I am jealous of you for being so brilliant and receiving so much adulation. But the truth is that you deserve it. Well done for making this video, and for creating a community that has made a huge difference in my life and the lives of many others.

Some people dismiss Instagram as a social media fad that self-absorbed hipsters use to make themselves look cool. But it can be so much more than that, especially in a city like Johannesburg. Instagram has the capacity to foster creativity and build relationships.

Heather selfie

Image courtesy of Gareth Pon.

If you haven’t joined yet, give it a try. You don’t have to be a photographer and you don’t need an iPhone. Visit Instagram.com for help.

To check out all of the photos posted from Sunday’s Worldwide Instameet, search the hashtag #wwim9_jhb on Instagram.

If you’d like to tour FNB Stadium yourself, visit www.stadiummanagement.co.za or call 011-247-5300.

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13 Comments

  • Reply Timmee May 24, 2014 at 12:48 pm

    I’d like to add a +1 to your confession.

    Brilliant piece. Thanks for sharing.

    (Insert banana emoticon here)

    • Reply 2summers May 25, 2014 at 11:59 am

      Haha, I’m glad I’m not the only one.

    • Reply jackgreen96 May 28, 2014 at 6:59 pm

      sounds like so much fun, and great pics by the way!

  • Reply Paula May 24, 2014 at 12:59 pm

    Beautiful beautiful article H!!!!! Well done!!! ❤️❤️❤️

  • Reply Jen May 24, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    Lovely piece. And your “100 Days of Happy” got me into Instagram — and honestly grounded me whenever I was having a bad day. There’s always something happy. Miss you! (And on the more superficial side: Not only are you a talented blogger and photographer, you look amazing in those photos!)

    • Reply 2summers May 25, 2014 at 12:00 pm

      Well, that is what it’s all about. Great to hear that you were inspired. And thank you for the compliment. xx

  • Reply Gail Wilson May 24, 2014 at 8:47 pm

    Awesome I need to join you sometime.

    • Reply 2summers May 25, 2014 at 12:01 pm

      Yes, you definitely do!

  • Reply roetsuprooted May 25, 2014 at 7:56 pm

    Such FOMO! I wish I could have been there. Beautiful video by Gareth Pon. And how amazing to see the igers jozi community grow.

    • Reply 2summers May 27, 2014 at 8:33 am

      I know, so great. Join us next time 🙂

  • Reply rickymarima May 30, 2014 at 12:37 pm

    Loved reading this. Just so you know, it’s because of you I started a photoblog, one day I’ll buy you that waffle.

    • Reply 2summers May 30, 2014 at 12:39 pm

      Aw, thanks. I’m sure we’ll meet soon 🙂

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