By Tracy Mutugi
My decision to finally join Instagram came wrapped in a New Year’s resolution with accompanied social pressure in my third year of uni. I had promised myself that I wanted to visually document more of the things that happened in the year so I'd have something interesting and memorable to look back on when I had my next usual quiet New Year’s Eve at home. And it was a way for me to exercise my photographic muscles and note the little interesting moments that don't always get their 15 seconds of fame.
Once that resolve was established and the Instagramming started, I began to develop a system for my posts.
Image: cool things, pretty things, lovely people, awesome places.
Captions: funny, informative, abstract, witty, explanatory.
Hashtags: VSCO (always), city or country the photo was captured in, relevant buzzwords, funny and unexpected tags, other general descriptions of the image contents.
“Each flower he ‘gave’ me sparked a conversation, gave me something to smile about.”
These were carefully and lovingly constructed posts — my spin on the signature square image.
One day, I posted a picture my ex-boyfriend had sent me of a lovely yellow flower. But for the first time, I didn’t follow my formula.
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Taking pictures of flowers around campus had become a sort of hobby for my now ex-boyfriend. He said it was a way of reminding himself that the world isn't all so bad. He had been taking these pictures for quite some time, even before we met, seemingly for his own simple pleasure — he was not interested in getting an Instagram account and didn’t have a particular audience for his collection of flowers. But then we met, and I became that audience.
I had been hoping and praying and patiently waiting for a boyfriend for a long time, and since I was a preteen had always envisioned being with a man with a flower in hand. So basically, he was a dream. His sending me pictures of flowers was probably the most delightful aspect of our initial courting — when I would wake up to a good morning message, each day accompanied by a different flower. I never expected to get such joy from digital flowers as opposed to real ones.
Flowers became a motif in our relationship. One day, after a coffee date, before things became serious, we walked around our campus and settled at a bench to chat. I had plucked a flower somewhere along the way, and during a lull in the conversation, he suggested we take a picture of it. This meant sitting much closer than usual to get a good view of the phone display, softly sharing suggestions of how to position the flower and detailed explanations of how the camera app worked, both of us trying to be cool about this new level of intimacy. He held the phone and flower, and I pressed the capture button on the screen. This image — this flower — signified progress in our relationship. Soon after, we were officially a couple.
Each flower he “gave” me sparked a conversation, gave me something to smile about. One day I asked, “So what if I put one of these flowers up on my blog?”
“I don’t like leaving my photos open to interpretation, but this time, I just couldn’t find the words.”
He responded simply with, “Sure. When I send these to you, they equally become yours as they are mine, so you are totally free to share them if you wish.”
He continued, "I'm just glad I finally have been able to share these flowers with someone.”
I smiled, thinking, Where did this guy come from? It was the sweetest thing I'd heard in some time.
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The image of that lovely yellow flower I posted to Instagram was my favorite flower photo he gave me while we were dating and one that I was very keen to post. But I was biding my time for the right moment on my blog or Instagram page to post it — maybe on our anniversary, maybe when I had a fitting and funny snippet from one of our weird conversations to use as a caption (with a lovingly placed #him somewhere in there too).
That opportunity never came. He broke up with me unexpectedly, and I felt stripped of this chance to showcase the lovely guy who gave me flowers on the regular. And this irked me. So I posted it anyway.
No caption, no hashtags — just bare. An empty photo. Unnamed and nondescript. I don’t like leaving my photos open to interpretation, but this time, I just couldn’t find the words. All I knew is that I wanted it out there. Then, maybe, if he checked up on my Instagram page, he'd see it and understand its significance. Like a pin on a map, I was documenting this moment of loss on my social feed, bright yellow.
It later occurred to me to find a quote as a caption about the nature of flowers — how something can be so beautiful and yet have such a tragically short life span, how you should appreciate things while they last. But I left it as is.
It felt more true.
Tracy Mutugi is an urban design student in Johannesburg, South Africa.