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Life Story Nineteen: capturing life via FaceTime

Apr. 23, 2020
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Adolescent Content was able to interview Ashley Seryn, one of the two creators of Story Nineteen—an Instagram account dedicated to “sharing our stories during COVID-19 through FaceTime shoots and handwritten notes.” The project is one of many seeking to document how the world has undergone change on an individual level in the age of social distancing. We were excited to have the opportunity to talk more with Seryn about how Story Nineteen aims to capture people in such a raw way.

Adolescent Content: What inspired you to start this project? Do you take influence from any other Instagram accounts or projects?

Ashley Seryn: I was planning a video project before COVID-19 hit, so I was pretty bummed that shooting wasn’t really an option anymore. It was hard for me and hearing from others about all the jobs and creative projects that were canceled or put on hold. But a friend suggested I try shooting over FaceTime, and I was very inspired after seeing @alessioalbi’s post. I started Story Nineteen as a modified version of that video project and a way to stay creative and connected while encouraging others to do the same.

Adolescent: How did you come up with the title of your project? Why Story Nineteen?

Ashley: I wanted to allude to COVID-19 in some way, and since the project is about sharing stories during the crisis, I decided that Story Nineteen worked out! 

Adolescent: How do you collect the material for your posts?

Ashley: Many of the initial posts were taken by me, and the people who I shot with sent me their notes. I started encouraging submissions to crowdsource content, so more people began to tag us and send their photos and notes. The FaceTime shoot trend really took off with Alessio and later Vogue and Bella Hadid, so I always see so many beautiful renditions on social media. Since it’s impossible to share them all, I just want to provide a small platform to showcase a few of them, while providing context and a deeper connection through the handwritten notes.

Adolescent: What are you trying to capture with Story Nineteen?

Ashley: I’m hoping to capture a snippet of an individual’s quarantine to paint a larger context for people’s experience of it. Photos are just a snapshot, and the notes are almost like a one-day journal entry. I think seeing these little moments connects us and [offers] us a way to try to make sense of what’s happening. 

 Adolescent: Why do you think it’s important to document life, visually and in writing, in the age of social distancing?

Ashley: I think having a creative outlet is super important, even though you may not feel creative every day. I found FaceTime shoots to be a great way to do that! I’m always a fan of writing—I think it provides a way to make sense of your emotions and a personal account to look back on. I also made sure to include a question asking about a goal or project the individual is working on. Writing about goals is so important in actualizing them.

Adolescent: Do you think there’s an element of human vulnerability to your project and the submissions you receive? Why or why not?

Ashley: Of course! Writing is often a personal thing, so sharing your handwritten notes online can feel vulnerable. [If you aren’t] having the best day, even voicing a goal can be scary if you’re unsure of it. For the webcam photos, getting your picture taken may be a bit uncomfortable for some people, especially without that in-person connection. Overall, I think this unprecedented time is making us all feel a bit more vulnerable, but it’s making us realize how important this is in connecting with others.

Adolescent: How have people reacted to your work? Has there been a lot of support for the project since you started it?

Ashley: I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback since I created the account with Alexa Losey, which was very motivating for me to hear. People liked the concept and just seeing a bit of positivity and creativity in their day, and some who did the written note said it was a therapeutic experience and that they enjoyed doing it. The account itself is still very small, but I’m glad to be able to share and reach the people that I can, with hopes to reach more!

Adolescent: How has this project affected you during lockdown?

Ashley: Like many other freelancers, my upcoming shoots and jobs were all canceled or postponed, and like the majority of students, my lectures are all on Zoom now (I’m a grad student at USC). Right now, I’m back home in Orange County with my family. Overall, I’m thankful for the privilege to be able to use this time to focus on myself as it’s really helped me to slow down and realize that life isn’t about what you’ve accomplished, but how you impact others.

Adolescent: Do you plan to continue Story Nineteen after quarantine is eventually lifted? 

Ashley: I think it’ll be a gradual process for things to go back to normal after quarantine is lifted, so I want to play it by ear to see if there’s other kinds of innovative content we can share as things change. When things do settle down, I’m planning to create a zine to sell with the photos and notes and donate all the proceeds to a COVID-19 relief charity. 

Adolescent: Would you encourage others to start their own FaceTime/webcam photography series/accounts/projects? Why or why not?

Ashley: Yes! I’ve seen so many people try FaceTime shoots and start other projects, from creating a platform to share quarantine drama to raise money for coronavirus-related causes (@the_socialdistanceproject), to big companies creating campaigns using at-home content. I think there’s so much potential for innovative, digitized content. Now is a great opportunity to get creative with ways to make old things work by finding new solutions!