Meet IGers Birmingham Part 7: Fraser McGee

Hi, I’m Fraser McGee and I was one of the founding members of Team IGers Birmingham. What follows is the story of my time as an ‘IGer’. It’s a story of perseverance, disappointment, and almost giving up before success finally arrived in the form of the great community we have today.

Where to start? Well wow, how time flies. It’s been almost 4 years since I took over the running of IGers Birmingham from David Rann and Nettie Edwards. David gave me my first taste of IGers with one of his early instameets way back in May 2012. When the account came to me in December 2013 I wasn’t entirely sure where the account would or could go. The Birmingham Instagram photography community was very much in its infancy back then and IGers was as well, with only 250 followers and 5 or 6 images being posted to the hashtag each day. I had no idea what the future held for it but one thing I was sure of was that I wanted to use it to build a photography community in Birmingham, and through it help myself and others to develop as photographers.

My first IGers Birmingham instameet, before I was in charge!

I set about doing this by trying to show people who used our hashtag that someone was looking at it. This came in the form of daily reposts on Instagram from the few images popping up each day, which would later become our now well known ‘photo of the day’ feature. I knew that to really build a community I needed to take it off Instagram and into the real world. I remember my first naive attempt at an instameet in January 2014 which was supposed to kick this off! I thought that the IGers name would have been enough to draw a crowd to the event which featured the newly opened Library of Birmingham, but I was very wrong indeed. Little promotion and no where near enough investment in building the community lead to only 2 people turning up to the event, one of which was my mate Jodie!

Realising that building a real world community was a lot harder than I thought, I decided to give the instameets a rest until my following had grown. A number of competitions, give aways, and online interaction really helped to boost the community and in May 2014 I tried the instameet thing again! This time it was met with slightly greater success thanks to a whopping turnout of 9! Little did I know that those who did turn out to that walk along the canals, @twonames @sruff @joncrampton and @james_never_jim, would still be coming to events 3 and half years later! This first ‘successful’ meet set the tone for all future events; set a meeting place, plan a relaxed route, end up in the pub! The pub being key to the creation of the social aspect of the community allowing people the chance to get to know each other.

Sort of success! More than 1 person comes to a meet! The canal walk in May 2014 – a really good event!

After this I went back to focusing on building the community online through more activities. Street photography competitions, autumn themed events, and other challenges were set for the community who always responded with enthusiasm. In conjunction with the daily reposts, this work saw the online following for IGers really grow however it was an event in January 2015 that really gave it a massive boost! Visit Birmingham and Tim Cornbill got together to run an instameet in the city centre on the theme of reflections. It was a massive success with about 70 people turning up including a certain Instagram Communities Editor , @hannahray. Hannah pushed the event through Instagram and as a result many of the attendees saw an overnight spike in followers, including IGers! This event also really helped push the idea of instameets in the city and as such my next event, a JQ instameet on a cold February day, was attended by almost 30 people.

Despite the success of this event, I started to question if IGers was right for me or if I was right for it. Seeing the success of other Visit Birmingham events in 2015 made me think that IGers would never take off. I got so down about it that in May 2015 I actually tried to give it away to @davemusson who I thought would do a better job of it than me but he politely declined (I think he knew how much hard work it was!). It wasn’t until I met a certain Mr Steve Townsend of Birmingham’s Hidden Spaces that I realised that IGers was alive and well and had a real future. A pint with Steve led to an invite to talk on a panel event as part of the Hidden Spaces events in June 2015. At that event I met one Beth Astington and one Annabell Lamba from the University of Birmingham, both of whom would help push IGers into its next phase of success.

Beth and Annabell had an idea for an instameet at UOB and wanted to partner with me to run it. Much planning and a few weeks later the event took place on a bright August morning. Attended by over 70 people it was by far and away the largest event IGers had ever done and was the first real collaboration with a major Birmingham institution. What followed was a blur of events which included long exposure photography, partnerships with Brumpic, and IGers first ventures to the countryside in the form of a Sutton Park instameet. The community boomed in online and offline following and in January 2016 Beth and Annabell joined the team full time.

Annabell, Beth and I at the University of Birmingham Instameet in August 2015.

With extra resources the schedule of events and competitions in 2016 accelerated incredibly. We did over 22 instameets including of course our first ever exhibition at the Nest Gallery in December! Collaborations with Colmore BID, Visit Birmingham and City of Colours were great – we even put on a weekend long festival of instameets in partnership with the Photography Show! This continued in 2017 even with Annabell deciding to move on from IGers. Working with local artists like Kris Askey, Reclaim Photography Festival, and local institutions like The Botanical Gardens and the Hippodrome allowed us to put on our most diverse range of events yet including our largest which attracted over 150 people! This all culminated in the Best of Birmingham exhibition which is one of our greatest achievements as a community and as IGers Birmingham. Promoting photography, community, and Birmingham is the mission statement of IGers Birmingham and this exhibition truly embodies this sentiment.

150 or so people at our Botanical Gardens instameet in May 2017 (they all sang me happy birthday after I took this!).

IGers has and always will mean a lot to me. Not only because of the success of the community and the obvious progression of so many members in terms of photographic technique, but because of the great many good friends that I have made through it, some of whom came to and even spoke at my wedding last year! I genuinely believe that we have given the city something special in this great community and to be partly responsible for it is a massive source of pride for me. The growth and recognition of the IGers brand has been beyond my wildest dreams and I do believe that it is now one of the main Birmingham Social Media based accounts alongside Birmingham Updates and iChoose. I can still remember when we first featured in the Birmingham Mail after the UOB event, something which would become fairly regular, and when we were on the BBC not so long ago! We even got shortlisted for a Birmingham Award for arts and culture  but were beat to it by another great local organisation.

I am really into candid street photography like the shot above taken on corporation street. I am also totally in love with black and white at the moment…

Rain in Deritend.

Black and White Lines. Shot from the roof of the Aston Uni Building.

Well, I hope that all made sense and was worthwhile reading. All I have left to say is a huge thank you for your support, participation, and commitment over the years. Without you IGers would not be what it is today.

See you at the next meet!