A new social app has launched, but this one is specifically for film photographers. The user funded app, called Grainery, looks and functions much like Instagram but with features tailored to the analogue community. The best part? No ads.
The developer is Kyle Johnston, a native New Yorker turned Greenville, South Carolina, USA resident and cycle enthusiast.
How Grainery Started
On how Grainery got started, Kyle says, ‘I can take credit for the idea but honestly it was a good crop of photographers I was in a group chat with for a while and we discussed how the platform we were on just didn’t feel like a place to grow anymore. It became a bit too commercialized and over-saturated to the point where it became Millennial QVC.’
Kyle mentions to me the laments of fellow photographers on reels, ads, and algorithms, ‘I came up on Instagram, my first post was a decade ago now, that’s crazy to think but I’ve seen the evolution of the platform. There was this golden era of photography a few years back when I was pushing myself and others were pushing me to get better and I really grew as a photographer then. I guess I was trying to recapture some of that magic from that time with Grainery.’
The rangefinder fan, whose photographic journey started as a teenager when his dad signed him up for a summer course [in photography] on Long Island, New York, is entirely self taught in the way of app development.
He says, ‘So I figured hey, I wear enough hats, I’ve done graphic design, photography, marketing, retail sales, customer service, and e-commerce. Maybe I can do this too? I mean I knew a decent bit of HTML / CSS to build websites. Maybe I can teach myself web development like I taught myself photography and nearly every other skill set that I have now. So I started exactly how everyone else does when they want to learn something new, I watched some YouTube videos.’
After one week, Kyle had a web app with the basics ready: a signup page, image uploader, and comments. The beginnings of Grainery!
Let’s take a look at Grainery
Taking a peek inside the web app, my initial impression is that it is very similar in layout to Instagram. The clean white and green color palette is pleasing, almost relaxing.
After creating an account and following some folks, the home page has a chronological feed for users to scroll through recent activity of their network. On each post, there are options to like, comment, share, see the hashtags, and save. Hashtags are not shown until you select the option to view them.
For each post, the app displays which camera, lens, and film was used. It shows the location as well. That is, if the poster decides to include this information.
If they do, the tags are used to create a database. Then users can search the web app for specific cameras, lenses and films. I find this feature incredibly fun and useful.
The app also features an explore page and gives users suggestions of new posts and profiles to check out.
It also comes complete with messaging features to be able to communicate directly and privately with other users.
The bell icon in the top bar shows users notifications on their activity, folks that have engaged with them on the platform.
At the moment, there are both free and subscription membership options. The subscription is called “Grainery+”, costs $3/month, and unlocks unlimited posts, profile updates, and entrance into a monthly raffle for a free roll of film. There will be more features built into the subscription such as access to a marketplace and forums. For now though, it is a way to support the project and also gain first access to future beta tests.
Kyle talks about the features and future plans of the app, ‘There’s a lot of things I’d like to do with Grainery…in the short term I really want to pack the core basic subscription of $3/month to be as feature rich as possible. We’re so used to getting everything on the internet for free in exchange for our data being sold wholesale to advertisers so I almost feel guilty in a way asking for even that small amount to run the site but I want people to feel like they’re getting like $20 worth of features for only $3.’
He wants to build into this low cost subscription, ‘a used camera marketplace, a database of film labs, a suite of guides to help new photographers learn how to develop at home or how to get really good scans from a DSLR.’
There are mobile versions of the web app coming soon. Initially, the plan was to not have a mobile app, but now Kyle estimates it will be ready before too long. I’d like to point out that he mentioned spending one weekend listening to a 30-hour course for building mobile apps on 1.5x speed and then another week of coding after his day job to cut the estimated timetable down from 6-8 weeks to create. This developer is dedicated.
The Network Effect
Will Grainery be the answer to the laments of [film] photographers around current social media apps?
On June 17, 2022 Grainery announced on Instagram that the app had passed 2,000 users one month after launching.
I’ve been using it for the last couple weeks and have been impressed by the design, functionality and moreso, the activity levels of fellow users. There is a phenomenon called the “Network Effect” for new social media apps, where an app will usually be successful if users experience a high amount of their network joining the app as well. It’s a chicken and egg scenario. It energizes users to be more active, the more active their network. Seeing folks being engaged on Grainery is a good sign of the app’s future.
So, that being said, if you have not checked it out yet, visit Grainery here.
Believe in Dreams and Grain
Chatting with Kyle, I get a strong sense of the photographer turned developer’s passion for both the photographic medium but also the community around it. He mentions Grainery as his way of giving back to the community in the way he can.
When I asked him about his journey back into film photography, he said, ‘I shot a lot of fast paced action and motorsports and when you’re shooting 10, 15, 30 frames a second you’re not so concerned about really nailing the fundamentals of photography. It started to feel more spray and pray…I kinda missed that pressure to really capture a decisive moment. To have a finite number of exposures and to challenge myself. On top of that I have a bit of attention deficit and there were only 2 things in this world that slowed me down and quieted everything else rushing through my mind. One was racing, or rather karting since that was what I could afford to do and the other was taking photos on film. That pressure to nail all the elements that go into crafting a good photo slowed me down. I was able to be more deliberate about my composition, my focus, my aperture and everything else. That’s probably what I enjoyed most about coming back to film.’
On how far his progress has come on Grainery since the early days, he says, “Now if you ask the photographers in that group chat 2 years ago if they thought any of this would materialize into an actual social media platform I don’t think any of them would have guessed I would have pulled it off, but to their credit, I’m not sure I even knew I could do it until I did. I basically just learned web development step by step hours, days, months at a time. A Udemy course here and there figuring out what I needed to make this part work or grab only the photos taken on this kind of film. I just kinda kept at it for a couple years on the side. I figured at the very least this fully fledged app would make one hell of a portfolio piece if I wanted to get a job in tech…as it became more of a real thing I started to believe in it and myself more.’
Two long term goals which Kyle describes as ‘shooting for the moon’ is to build a quarterly print magazine and spoiler, an affordable 35mm panoramic camera. He says, ‘I am such a sucker for print magazines. I would absolutely love to do a quarterly magazine and work with some of the users to produce it. As a fledgling graphic designer that is like my dream. So maybe with the right amount of interest, who knows? If we really break into this market, I have some industrial design and engineering friends. I would love to bring a 35mm panoramic camera to market that doesn’t cost $8,000, but that’s just crazy talk at this point. But who knows, two years ago an ad free user funded social media app for film photographers was a crazy idea….’
So crazy talk all you want Kyle, it’s exciting already what Grainery has launched into the film community. I, for one, cannot wait to see where it goes.