[OBSCURA] On the photographic art of Justin Main, Instagram’s photified
I was startled to see the above image in my RSS feed, contained within Emily Landau’s Toronto Life feature “This Toronto photographer reimagines the skyline as a post-apocalyptic dystopia”. This image, and many others, is the product of Instagram user Justin Main, known as photified on that platform. His surreal alternate histories are amazing.
Over the past few years, the iconic Toronto skyline has become a creative blank slate for Toronto artists, who are taking familiar elements—the CN Tower, Rogers Centre, waterfront skyscrapers—and transforming them into fantastical cityscapes. One of the most inventive Instagrammers on the scene is Justin Main, a prolific photographer who goes by the handle @photified on Instagram. Main’s shots make the city seem like the world of a video game: he shows the skyline sprouting out of an iPhone screen, envisions giants stomping on the city and reimagines Toronto as a miniature city in a turtle tank. The photos are cheeky, striking and sometimes a bit scary.
The 30-year-old Main grew up in Barrie. When he was 14, he fell in love with Photoshop, spending all his spare time manipulating images. He studied photography at Georgian College, but after he graduated, he found himself weighed down by OSAP loans and decided to give up his photographic aspirations for something more stable. He got a gig at the Honda factory in Alliston, Ontario, and spent the next three years assembling car engines.
About five years ago, Main decided to quit his job, move to Toronto and pursue photography full time. “I was discouraged by most of my family and friends, but I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it,” he says. For the first couple of years, he worked in the music industry, creating album covers for hip-hop mixtapes. His ultimate goal was to get into advertising, so in 2013 he embarked on a Project 365, which involves posting one image every day. He never missed a day—even during the 2013 ice storm, when he lost power and had to camp out in Tim Hortons to work on his laptop. Three years later, he’s amassed tens of thousands of Instagram followers, and when he’s not posting on Instagram, he’s creating images for brands like Google, Club Med, Crayola and Timberland.
Main’s shots are complex photo collages: he often spends up to 12 hours a day cropping, lighting and tinting on Photoshop, splicing together anywhere from two to 15 individual images. Many of his images are magical twists on classic Toronto sights, like the Island, the DVP and Brookfield Place.
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This vaguely apocalyptic landscape combines the Toronto waterfront with a rocky cliffside, making the city resemble an isolated medieval fortress. “I dreamed this up after a discussion with a friend about lunar tides,” Main explains. “I wanted to exaggerate Toronto, so it kind of looked like the Bay of Fundy.”
I normally don’t follow Instagram photo art accounts, but I followed this one. You may want to do the same.