WOOF & WALLS
Instagram can be a great way to get to know people from afar. From personal style to what they're eating to where they travel - it's all there. But usually, when it comes to insta-famous animals, the humans behind them are somewhat of a mystery. So I was super excited when an upcoming trip to Chicago led to a coffee date with the creative genius behind Woof & Walls - a hashtag generated Insta-sensation that curates user submitted photos of, what else, dogs and walls!
I met Crystal at a coffee shop in the Roscoe Village neighborhood of Chicago. May had definitely seen warmer weekends, but we sat outside anyway. I left a family breakfast earlier that morning, citing a "work meeting" - but really I just wanted to hang out with Crystal and talk shop. How did she come up with the idea for Woof & Walls? What has the experience of growing it been like, and where does she see it going? I'm not sure what I expected, but I was struck with how easy she was to talk to. Her adorably charming mid-western accent reminded me of girls I went to summer camp with, who I idolized if for no reason other than they sounded different from me and dated boys who played lacrosse. The more time we spent together the more I realized how much we have in common. When she took me to her house a few blocks away to meet her pups, Paris and Emmy Lou - the Woof Sisters - I saw a parallel version of my own life in a different city. I imagined that if I ended up in Chicago (not unlikely all things considered), that we would easily be friends. There's something magical to me about that part of the country, and I'm starting to wonder if maybe it's mostly the people.
When we headed back out with Emmy Lou in tow, we didn't have to go far to find what we were looking for - a good 'wall' that I could photograph them in front of. The typical post on Woof & Walls involves some sort of elaborate street art, so I was a little surprised when she brought me to an unassuming white block wall under a bridge. I started snapping a couple shots and suddenly realized what it is about W&W that accounts for its success. On it's own, that simple white wall isn't doing much, I don't think many people who pass by think much of it. But put someone in front of it, and it becomes something altogether new and interesting. I love the idea that the walls of our cities are just backdrops, waiting around for us to come by and make them into something special.
When I asked how she came up with the idea for W&W - her story was much like anyone who hits on something that strikes a chord. She just loves dogs and street art. She did some research, and no one else seemed to be doing anything similar. During our conversation, I found myself fixated on this idea of creating a hashtag. Of course anyone can hashtag anything and everything, usually to the point of complete pointlessness, but the ones that stick are fascinating to me, if only because they originate from a single person, but affect the lives of so many people. And I submit that because of Crystal, the way we walk our dogs is slightly different now. We pass walls that we've passed so many times before, but this time we stop, getting our pups to do the best sit/stay they can muster, and then snap, post, hashtag and share. It's the reason that hashtags, so often the butt of the joke, are actually awesome. After all, it's a hashtag that's responsible for bringing me to Roscoe Village on a chilly Sunday in May, where I got to connect with someone who I otherwise never would have met.
Back at the apartment I called an Uber and she took the time to show me the new Woof & Walls blog that she had in the works, which is live as of this writing and the next thing on your to-do list. Looking back I realize what a portrait of the times we were, and what a good time it is to be a woman. We didn't have much time but I wanted to take a few more photos, feeling grateful to her for taking the time to meet and wanting to properly showcase all she's doing. Paris and Emmy Lou were eager to model their Woof & Walls bandanas, and this last photo is probably my favorite. As the two of us maneuvered around the little sun room at the back of her apartment, me with my camera and her with a bag of treats, I was reminded of why dogs are such powerful creatures. Their ability to create community is totally unparalleled in the human world. They bring us together, no matter how far apart we may be.