Students’ Instagram selfie shots earn them campus fame

Students+Instagram+selfie+shots+earn+them+campus+fame

Mark Hammontree

Modern smartphones and social media have completely revolutionized the way people take pictures and share them with others, leading to a trend so popular that the term was recently named the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year: selfie.

Selfies have become an ingrained part of our culture, both celebrated and satirized, and perfecting the art of the selfie has been the subject of societal conversations for the younger generations.

Two University of Alabama students are taking selfies to another level with their Instagram account, @selfiesandstrangers.

Nick Simpson, a sophomore majoring in telecommunication and film, and Grant Benton, a freshman majoring in photography, were out with some friends at Wal-Mart when they were dared to take a picture with a complete stranger.

“So we did, and then this guy gave us this crazy reaction, except it was funny because he was like, ‘Don’t turn us in,’ and we said, ‘Wait, what are you talking about?’” Simpson said. “And then we went up to this other girl, and she loved it, like she threw up the peace signs and everything.”

Simpson then posted the pictures to his own Instagram account, where they quickly racked up more than 100 likes. After the positive reactions, Simpson and Benton decided to launch a new account devoted to snapping pictures with regular people.

The @selfiesandstrangers Instagram account posted its first picture four weeks ago, and in the first week alone, the account gained 1,000 followers and is currently up to nearly 1,300.

“It’s more than either of us have on our personal accounts. It’s just something you’ve got to live with,” Simpson said.

In the month since the pair made the account, Simpson and Benton have taken selfies at venues such as the Quad and Waffle House. Their favorite, though, was taken with two employees at K-Mart.

“This lady was sitting on the floor restocking the toothpaste, and we were like, ‘Hey excuse me, can we take a picture with you?’” Simpson said. “So we get on the floor, and we’re holding the phone up, and this other lady come and slides in behind us. We were like, ‘Okay, you can get in too if you want!’”

Simpson said they have been surprised with the level of the reaction they’ve received from followers.

“People comment all the time saying, ‘Hey, I love this. This is such a great idea. You made my day,’” Simpson said. “When we don’t post a picture people are like, ‘Where y’all been? We’re waiting for a picture.’”

Benton said they have only been turned down four times, and the pair has been stopped multiple times by people who recognize them from their Instagram posts.

“We were in Starbucks a couple weeks ago, and this girl stood up and yelled out, ‘Are y’all Selfies and Strangers?’ And we were like, ‘Yeah, we are.’” Simpson said.

Simpson said taking the pictures is still a spur-of-the-moment occurence with random people. However, even after more than 20 posts, the pair still gets a little nervous before approaching their selfie targets.

“I’m like, ‘Grant, it’s your turn. I’m not feeling it. If you want to take it, you have to ask,’” Simpson said.

Sometimes, the strangers need a little convincing too, Benton said.

“We usually say, ‘Hey, can we take a picture with you? We’ve got an Instagram account,’ and if they’re hesitant, we’re like, ‘It’s for school,’” Benton said. “‘It’s just a college project,’ and then they do it.”

Robin Clarke, a freshman majoring in civil engineering, was approached by the pair as she sat studying on the steps of Gorgas Library and is soon to be the next stranger in their collection of selfies.

“I had no idea what they were doing,” Clarke said. “But then I was definitely cool with it. That was definitely a new experience.”

For Simpson and Benton, their satisfaction is found in the joy the selfies bring to others.

“We just enjoy seeing the people’s reactions, making them smile and stuff,” Benton said.