Instagrammers love to collect images of old doors and windows, seen for centuries as bridges between worlds
Every morning Tamara Yurovsky takes her wire fox terrier, Oliver, for a walk in Vinegar Hill, an enclave of Greek Revival homes built in the 1830s along the Brooklyn waterfront in New York City. Along the way he preens for photographs that Yurovsky posts on the Instagram account @oliver_thewirefox.
“He totally owns it,” Yurovsky says, adding, “If Oliver feels like directing, then you have to go with the flow.”
Oliver is certainly a cute little guy, but the real stars of many of Yurovsky’s photographs are the neighbourhood’s doors, windows and façades.
“Doors say a lot about a place,” she says. “But they also conceal many possible realities.”
Such photographs belong to a genre all their own (“doortraits,” as they are called on Instagram), and they are surging in popularity.
While much of the Internet these days seems like a dysfunctional family split along social and political lines, the door- crazed Instagram users belong to a harmonious community.
You can find accounts focused on doors from Iran, Italy, Nicaragua, Stockholm and California.
Martha Reyes in Florida and Katie Smith from London teamed up recently to start @ihaveathingforwalls, an account that brings together photographs of mostly doors and windows from Instagram accounts around the world.
The two women have never met in person, but after seeing each other’s photographs, they decided to collaborate. They communicate mostly using WhatsApp and split weekly oversight of the Instagram account, which has roughly 40,000 followers.
For Reyes, who said that she suffers from kidney disease, Instagram is a welcome distraction.
“I was getting depressed and the only thing to take me out of that was a picture,” she says. “It took my thoughts away from the pain.”
Present- day doortraits are rooted in painting’s past. Seventeenth- century Dutch painters portrayed doors and windows as a bridge between worlds: home and street life, worldliness and spirituality. In the 1800s, the first photographers harked back to those themes, among them the British inventor William Henry Fox Talbot, whose The Open Door was a conscious mirroring of the Dutch masters.
“It evokes a kind of voyeurism, wondering what is going on behind a door or window,” says Erin Barnett, the director of exhibitions and collections for the International Center of Photography in downtown Manhattan.
In t he mid- 1970s, t he photographer Roy Colmer captured more than 3,000 doors in Manhattan, and the pictures are now part of the collection at the New York Public Library. Colmer’s inspiration, according to Elizabeth Cronin, the library’s assistant curator of photography, was Aldous Huxley’s Doors of Perception Include Heaven and Hell, in which he delivers ( according to Amazon), “such spectacular accounts of the most everyday objects that the reason for their repeated and continual renderings by all the major artists throughout history suddenly becomes quite clear.”
Cronin says that Colmer was interested in street life, and photographing doors gave him a certain cover.
“No one was noticing these doors, and it gave him a sense of freedom,” she says.
Andrew Howell, a graphic designer who l i ves in suburban London, said attending church services as a young boy sparked his interest in urban portals; for one, he wondered what mystery lurked behind the church tower’s closed door. (Bells, he later found out.)
Now he can be found, camera in hand, wanderi ng East London for his @ doors_ of_ england Instagram account, which has more than 5,800 followers.
“You could be in 18th-century London,” he says of the neighbourhood he has been chronicling. “I want to document it while it is still there.”
Julie Gebhardt, a hairdresser who works in San Francisco and has 47,000 Instagram followers for her door- centric account, has started leading a neighbourhood door tour for her new Instagram friends. “We go into a neighbourhood they normally wouldn’t go to,” she says. “There is beauty in the ordinary. Maybe it is not super picturesque. But you can show the beauty of decay.”
Some of the doortrait takers find their friends and family puzzled by their obsession with something so far from the usual Instagram fare of rainbows, cute animals and Sunday brunch.
Soraya Ben Hadj, a digital marketing consultant who grew up in Tunisia but now lives in Paris, says a friend chided her once because of the subject matter of her Instagram account, @ doorseverywhere.
“He said: ‘ Look, you are taking pictures of closed doors. That means you are not open-minded,’” she says. “For some people, that is something negative. For me, it’s not at all negative. I use my imagination. I confess, sometimes I see someone going in. That gives humanity to the place. A door is a path to somewhere else.”
Abdullah Alriyami, a writer from Oman who lives in Rabat, Morocco, began taking doortraits in Morocco and Oman a few years ago when he got his first smartphone.
He is concerned t hat globalization will obliterate local culture and with it, the doors and windows that make each place unique. In Morocco, for instance, many of the wooden doors he photographs are handcarved with elaborate decorations. Others are brightly painted or forged in metal and hammered into shape.
Alriyami was interviewed by email, with translations by his daughter, Maryam Al Tubi, a student at the University of South Carolina.
“Doors and windows in architecture are just like the eyes in people,” Alriyami writes. “It is through your eyes that I know about you and we communicate better. A door is not just a tool for security and protection, it is a cultural symbol of a human being.”
The one thing that distinguishes one door from another is the person behind it. Oliver, Yurovsky’s terrier, has more than 11,400 followers and a canine buddy in Scotland with whom he swaps scarves. Yurovsky too helped create a hashtag for dog owners to share photos of dogs and doors; it already has nearly 1,000 posts.
A worry shared by many of those who take part in this Instagram genre is that the people on the other side of the doors may not appreciate the intrusion of a stranger with a camera.
“I do get worried in certain neighbourhoods that people might get upset,” says Yurovsky, who photographs her terrier in Brooklyn. Luckily, her dog is a polite New Yorker.
“For the record,” she says, “Oliver has never gone to the bathroom on anyone’s door.”
DOORS AND WINDOWS IN ARCHITECTURE ARE JUST LIKE THE EYES IN PEOPLE. IT IS THROUGH YOUR EYES THAT I KNOW ABOUT YOU ... A DOOR IS NOT JUST A TOOL FOR SECURITY AND PROTECTION, IT IS A CULTURAL SYMBOL OF A HUMAN BEING. — ABDULLAH ALRIYAMI, INSTAGRAMMER IT’ A KIND OF VOYEURISM, WONDERING WHAT IS GOING ON BEHIND THE DOORS
Perhaps the interest in the mysteries behind such portals is our way of using technology to transport ourselves back to a slower time.