South End-based Cara Llewellyn (@llewllewtoo) is a senior designer for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s youth titles by day and a bit of an Instagram rock star by night. The RISD graduate has just south of 30,000 followers whom she captivates regularly with her dreamy, occasionally gravity-defying snaps.
Q. I feel like almost all your photos have a sense of whimsy to them. Is that something you see carrying over from your professional life?
A. It’s more from just my personality. I am always joking and I love a good time, as you might have noticed. When people look at my photos, I want to make them go, “Wow!” Or laugh, or something like that. The great designer Milton Glaser once said, “There are three responses to a piece of design—yes, no, and WOW!” I am always going for the wow.
Q. You’ve been able to gather a very impressive following. Did that happen progressively?
A. It did. I follow @Instagram and I enter there. I don’t know if you know about the weekend hashtag project, but I started entering that contest, and I was featured a couple of times. They have something like 56 million followers now so that’s a lot of eyeballs on your work.
Q. That’s really interesting.
A. I love Instagram’s weekend hashtag project, because I love a good assignment. Coming from art school you feed off of smaller parameters and I think that actually really encourages creativity, working within boundaries. There’s a metaphor for that too with Instagram because you’re working in a square which is normal, my usual photo format. You kind of have to reimagine the composition a little to fit the equal square.
Q. A subject recently told me that Instagram feels like the least creepy social media to reach out to someone you don’t know.
A. With Instagram, you really feel like you know the person. You curate your list of people you follow, too. I’ve found a lot of professional photographers and designers and people who are really into the Instagram community. It’s amazing, I now have friends in 20 counties. I have a friend named Zoey who lives in London and she’s like, “If you ever want to come to London, come stay with me!”
Q. Your photos can look pretty magical — people are floating, jumping, balancing in completely surreal ways. How do you capture those moments?
A. It actually started with my boyfriend Jason Robertson — he’s @low_key_loki on Instagram. There’s this really famous photographer named Philippe Halsman who shot Marilyn Monroe and himself in sort of a self-portrait while jumping. They looked so magically floating. I am really drawn to practical magical things that can also be done really easy in an analog format. So I said [to Jason], “Hey why don’t you go over there and jump.” He said OK, and he jumped and it was like 5 feet off the ground. He kept his feet flat so it just looked like he levitated.
Q. He just propelled himself?
A. Yeah. It was amazing. Ever since then, I’m always saying, “Jason, want to do a jump?” It even has its own hashtag, #jasonjustjumps. A lot of the other things have spun off of that. I have him with his hand out and levitating things in his hand. It is just throwing things or dropping things but always looks magical.
Llewellyn’s Instagram account:
This interview has been condensed. Rachel Raczka can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @rachelraczka..