Hashtag #weloveatl launchs photo project that keeps on giving

Who loves ATL? #weloveatl.

That’s the social media hashtag three Atlanta-based photographers created two years ago to connect with local shutterbugs on Instagram. They had no idea the initiative would turn into a long-term project that has supplied more than 37,000 meals and counting to Atlanta’s needy.

“The hashtag is where things started, but the true meaning didn’t dawn on us until after that (first) show,” said Brandon Barr, a writer from Missouri.

It all started, as things often do, at Manuel’s Tavern. Barr’s buddy Tim Moxley, a photographer from Florida, was sitting at the pub one day scrolling through the Atlanta hashtags on Instragram. He was dismayed at the lack of substance he found — mostly selfies and club promotions. But he noticed some of the photos told a story of Atlanta, and he wanted to come up with a way to highlight them.

Enlisting the help of Barr, Aaron Coury, a photographer from Ohio and photographer Keith Weaver they started using the #weloveatl hashtag to solicit photo contributions for an upcoming art exhibit called “We Love Atlanta.” Scheduled for December 2012, it would be the final show at Youngblood Gallery.

The organizers expected about 500 submissions, but by the end of the month they received more than 5,000 photographs. For the show, 275 photos were printed and exhibited.

But once the show had come and gone, people were still using the hashtag.

“It was then we realized something about the phrase, something about the quality of the images spoke to the people,” Barr said. “It built its own community of photographers that were using the hashtag to share their love of the city.”

The team decided to take it up a notch and started a Kickstarter campaign. Within 22 days they raised more than $7,000, bought an old bread truck and turned it into a traveling photo gallery exhibiting prints from the Instragram feed. The truck has become a popular sight at summer festivals and pop-up galleries around town, identifiable by a logo incorporating a red heart with a silhouette of the Atlanta skyline.

“This is an incredibly inspiring way to capture the culture of a city,” said photographer Oz Shaw, touring the mobile gallery at the Paris on Ponce Bastille Day Festival last month.

“It is a great idea. Everyone wins and it makes you more excited to live in Atlanta,” said Mexico native Natalia Castells.

The truck contains exhibit space for about 70 photos, which can be purchased for $5-$50, depending on the size.Proceeds from the sales go to the Atlanta Community Food Bank, where $1 can feed four people, Barr said.

“We’re bringing art, culture and charity together,” said Coury. “We love the idea of celebrating our community, and it’s fun to see people get excited about it.”

Organizers have also created a monthly social event called Insta-meets. It’s an opportunity for Atlantans to get out of the digital world, meet face-to-face and walk around their city taking photographs.

“It takes the celebration of the city streets to the city streets,” Barr said.

So far Instagram users have tagged more than 75,000 photos with #weloveatl.

“If you say #weloveatl, it’s a proclamation, it’s different than identifying where you’re at, it’s saying ‘I love my city’ or ‘we love our city,’” Moxley said.

Next up for #weloveatl: Organizers hope to establish nonprofit status by the end the year. Look for their mural at Art on the Atlanta Beltline, beginning Sept. 6, and a pop-up gallery show at Ponce City Market Oct. 4.

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