‘Door­traits’

In­sta­gram­mers love to col­lect im­ages of old doors and win­dows, seen for cen­turies as bridges be­tween worlds

National Post (Latest Edition) - - POST HOMES - By Laura M. Hol­son

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

GETTY IM­AGES

Per­haps the in­ter­est in the mys­ter­ies be­hind such por­tals is our way of us­ing tech­nol­ogy to trans­port our­selves back to a slower time.

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