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Portrait Meet

By Rakia Achab


In decades past, it was difficult for photographers and models to start their careers, because there was a lack of accessibility to their desired fields; with technological advances in today’s modern era, a variety of social media channels allow these artists to promote their work instantaneously while reaching thousands of viewers across the world. Portrait Meet, an Instagram-based sharing platform, was created in Boston by Can “John” Ahtam to help photographers and models hit the ground running in their field. It works like this: Users attend “meetup” events throughout the city – which are hosted by the platform – to network, to build their portfolio, or to use as a creative outlet. Ahtam was inspired to create the platform after photographing people in public areas of his native country, Turkey.

“I was very interested in taking candid photos of people on the streets. In Turkish culture, it’s very normal and it hasn’t been an inconvenience, in my personal experience,” said Ahtam.

When he arrived in the United States, Ahtam aspired to receive his MBA at Bentley University. He noticed early on that when it came to candid photos, Americans were very different than the Turkish.  

“When I came here, I realized that people are more personal and like to have their own privacy,” said Ahtam. After receiving his MBA from Bentley, Ahtam developed an “instant meet” concept that would bring people together to shoot photos and benefit one another. This approach was designed to help emerging photographers and models build their portfolios, and also to create an atmosphere that was comfortable, relaxed, and welcoming to everyone. Ahtam stressed that the goal of Portrait Meet is very clear – to gather together as a community and to help people engage with one another.

The platform started with just 15 to 20 users and did not begin to grow rapidly until Ahtam and his team held a meetup at the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University, which hosted more than 100 people. From that day on, the community was well aware of Portrait Meet’s presence in the city. Locals started personally reaching out to Ahtam to find out how the platform worked, and how they could get involved. 

“I received a lot of messages from people who wanted a one-on-one. I didn’t mind, but I always made sure to extend the offer to Portrait Meet as well,” said Ahtam.

When trying to figure out the next steps for Portrait Meet, Ahtam takes a very relaxed approach to planning the next meetup.

“Usually coming up with the plans does not take weeks in advance, only a few days. It’s spontaneous, and people always ask when the next meetup will be, but there is no set calendar or scheduled dates for an event,” said Ahtam.

Social media networks such as Facebook and Instagram help Ahtam spread the word about the next meetup. Ahtam receives assistance from coordinators who manage the meetup groups. Since the number of participants is constantly growing, reaching as high as 100 people per meetup, having extra help is necessary. Coordinators are in charge of moving the event along in a timely order, so that participants are able to shoot in more than one location at each meetup. 

“When we move, we move in patches, and some people like to take a longer time. We are always in constant communication with each other,” said Ahtam.

Portrait Meet’s laid-back environment is not the only reason users join; another huge plus is the absence of a registration or entrance fee. Ahtam stressed that Portrait Meet is very casual – photographers and models of diverse backgrounds come together at no charge to learn from one another and have fun.

At every meetup, Ahtam gives a speech beforehand to inform participants of the rules, and to provide them with the background of Portrait Meet. He insists there is no competition at these events, and participants should be respectful of each property at all times. He acknowledges that members are adults and can make their own decisions, but sometimes people get carried away with their creativity, and he wants to make sure that nothing will be damaged and no one will be harmed.

“It’s a shared purpose, and we are transparent in our message and in our mission,” said Ahtam. 

While the message and culture of Portrait Meet is important, weather is not really a concern for Ahtam. Since the planning of the events is very relaxed and spur of the moment, Ahtam does not check the weather. People will always show up to take photos, and sometimes weather conditions such as rain or snow make for even better shots.

“Rain doesn’t stop me; I’m not made of sugar,” said Ahtam. “Finding new faces really excites me a lot. Obviously, seeing familiar faces warms my heart, and I’m stoked to meet them; seeing their work gives me joy. We had a lot of new faces at the Back Bay Fens [meetup], and that made me really happy to know that it is expanding.”         

Ahtam is looking forward to the future of Portrait Meet and the opportunities that come along with it. He is currently in contact with communities in San Francisco, New York City, and Philadelphia, as well as international communities in Athens, Greece and in Toronto, Canada.

The opportunities that Portrait Meet brings to the community are endless. Ahtam welcomes everyone to be a part of Portrait Meet to gain knowledge, to network, and to build a portfolio, all while having fun. Portrait Meet looks forward to bettering the community, along with building relationships that reach past each event.

@portraitmeet; @canahtam

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