UrbanYEG builds community through Instagram

Chan Rin links people through photography, social media and the urban landscape

It was early 2015, and Chan Rin (Finance ’04) was scrolling through his Instagram feed, admiring photos taken by fellow local photographers. That’s when he realized something.

“Why don’t I know these people? How come I’ve never met them? I thought, ‘I’ll be the person to create that community,’" he says.

That’s how UrbanYEG was born.

UrbanYEG is a group for people interested in photography, regardless of their level of expertise. Members come together and learn techniques from each other, posting photos to Instagram with the hashtag #UrbanYEG. Rin says collaboration is a rare concept in such a competitive industry.

“The photography world is not as supportive as I would like,” says Rin, who co-owns Vivid Ribbon Photography and Design. “It’s rare to see people cheering on others.” Group members swap tips at regular meet-ups, called “Insta meets.” Most importantly, however, they help foster a sense of community.

Social media in support of mental health

A few months after he started UrbanYEG, one of the group members committed suicide. “He had come to a couple of Insta meets,” says Rin. “When it happened, I knew I needed to open up to the [UrbanYEG] community about mental health. Since that day, we’ve made a point [to talk about it].”

"I knew I needed to open up to the [UrbanYEG] community about mental health."

Rin has worked closely with the City of Edmonton to support the urban isolation and mental health strategy through UrbanYEG, and the group was formally recognized in 2016 for outstanding work in the community and mental health support. The Insta meets encourage Edmontonians to meet others and explore the city together. Rin says it can be difficult for people to meet new friends, even in a city with so much going on.

“When you feel alone, you’re likely to feel things like anxiety or depression creep up.” Symptoms can be minimized by spending time with a supportive group, he adds.

Rin has observed community members’ photography skills improve and confidence bloom. One UrbanYEG member’s anxiety caused him to almost not introduce himself to others at an Insta meet in 2015. Now, Rin says he watches the man speak to large groups.

“That’s so cool,” he says. “People are thankful that UrbanYEG exists.”

Group members aren’t always willing to open up and talk about anything other than photography. That’s fine, says Rin. Snapping a creative photo can be a way to express what’s going on inside. 

“I know it helps,” he says. “It’s an outlet. They can show up and know it’s okay.

“So many people have privately messaged me to say thank you for hosting the Insta meets,” he says. People have even made lifelong friends at the events, he adds.

A growing community

Back in 2015, 24 people showed up to the first Insta meet. Now, anywhere from 80-100 budding and professional photographers get together to connect and explore the city.

The group has snapped photos throughout downtown, along Whyte Avenue, inside the Art Gallery of Alberta and EPCOR Tower, to name a few locations. The photos taken at Insta meets are curated and shared on the UrbanYEG Instagram feed, but community members are encouraged to share photos between Insta meets, using #UrbanYEG.

Rin organizes an Insta meet every couple of months. Watch the UrbanYEG Instagram feed for upcoming dates and to see stunning photos captured by local photographers. While you’re there, don’t forget to post your own photos, too.

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