TIME follows Instagram photographer Dave Krugman inside the American Museum of Natural History, his latest behind-the-scene tour at some of New York City’s largest museums
Welcome to this week’s edition of TIME LightBox Follow Friday, a series where we feature the work of photographers using Instagram in new, interesting and engaging ways. Each week we will introduce you to the person behind the feed through his or her pictures and an interview with the photographer.
This week #LightBoxFF features photographer Dave Krugman (@dave.krugman), formerly a freelance photographer and retoucher for Annie Leibovitz who collaborated earlier this month with the American Museum of Natural History (@amnh) and uses his Instagram presence to lead exclusive tours for some of New York City’s largest museums.
When New York City’s museums close for the day, Dave Krugman begins his. Trailed by a select crew of prolific Instagramers and PR specialists, they methodically photograph the spaces and artifacts, showcasing what makes the institutions unique. Then, they transfer the images from their DSLRs onto their phones and post them to Instagram, tagging the museums. The goal is simple: to drive traffic to the museum’s online profiles, building up their presence on Instagram.
Krugman’s first foray into Instagram-led tours happened a year ago when he convinced the Metropolitan Museum of Art to open up its galleries for him after normal opening hours. Accompanied by other Instagram photographers, they tagged their images with the hash tag #emptymet. The project proved to be hugely successful. “Before the project, the MET had a little shy of 4000 followers,” Krugman tells TIME. “Basically the project really put them on the map in the [photo] community. Instagram took notice because a lot of the people in the Instagram community were involved in it. As we repeated the project and through the museum’s own efforts, [they now have] over 200,000 followers.”
Aside from Instagram, the New York Times and Fortune Magazine featured #emptymet in their pages, propelling Krugman to the top of the New York City Instagram community with more than 100,000 followers.
He has since led tours for the New York Public Library and the Intrepid Air & Space Museum. The American Museum of Natural History took notice, reaching out to Krugman for help in finding a voice on Instagram.
For Anne Canty, AMNH’s Senior Vice President of Communications and Marketing the Instagram tour is “for people that have never been here, and maybe don’t have the ability to come here. Hopefully it will be a way for them to appreciate interesting natural history content. Both content that’s timeless as well as showing how the museum changes.”
Krugman selected his team carefully, choosing top Instagrammers Jose Silva @jnsilva, Karim Mustafa @karim.mustafa, Sam Morrison @Sam the Cobra, and John Suarez @jm_suarez. Together they spent six hours touring the museum, photographing its main attractions as well as rooms that are off-limit to the public such as the ichthyology, mineralogy and entomology collections. The images will then be curated by the Museum’s public relations team and released over time on the museums feed @amnh.
Aside from exclusive access, Krugman was able to secure a budget for the project, something he wasn’t able to do in the past. “Instagram was very young when we started this project. Very very few brands or institutions were paying [Instagram] photographers. Now, I’m paying photographers, I’m paying myself. It’s actually becoming an incredible opportunity for paid work.”
For Krugman, this success is representative of a new golden age of photography, with Instagram helping to elevate smartphone photography. “When the printing press came out, it didn’t invent books but it democratized literacy,” he says. “When the iPhone came out, it didn’t invent the camera but it democratized visual literacy. I think some people view the phone as an assault on photography while it’s really not, it’s exactly the opposite. Everybody has a camera now, and if you have experience with something, you have a deeper appreciation for it.”