An Instagram Celebrity Shares More Than Just Beautiful Pictures

Kirby Trapolino also known as @ktrap on Instagram is famous for sharing some truly insightful pictures. His primary theme is around people living in poverty, from slums of India, to orphans of Nepal. He has over 6000 followers, on an average his pictures get 500+ likes, and an equally high number of comments – his pictures are also frequently selected for the popular page on Instagram.

Kirby did not get a fan following for being a “web celebrity”, in real life he runs a humble nonprofit organization called Peace Gospel, which works in developing countries helping poor earn a living through micro enterprise programs. Due to Peace Gospel’s work in international terrains, Kirby gets to travel to Asia and Africa. His pictures are inspired by his travel and the people he is helping on the ground. He has earned his popularity on Instargram from the ground up, through his stunning pictures, uniqueness of his subject and his amazing storytelling skills. His captions are inspiring, educational and packed with thought provoking insights.

As a big fan of @ktrap and a newbie on Instagram, I interviewed him as I was keen to learn about his work, how he got popular on Instagram and his photography tools of choice.

Deepa Chaudhary (DC): Tell us a bit about yourself?

Kirby Trapolino (KT): I currently reside in Houston, Texas but have lived in South Asia and plan to move back there next year. I’m a bit of a nomad and perfectly content with not being settled. I travel frequently to Asia, Asia/Pacific, Africa and Europe. From a young age I’ve been drawn to internationals and love experiencing different cultures. When I was in high school I traveled to Jamaica. While there I got my first real view of poverty. The next year I signed up to go overseas on a summer service project that took me through Eastern Europe. In college, I went back with the same organization to lead a group of teenagers on a service project to help construct an orphanage in India. During that time I met a native man who was the pastor of a small church in the slums. We struck up a friendship and I desired to help him put feet to his vision to reach out to the people of the slums with programs to rehabilitate and empower the destitute, orphans and widows. So when I got back to the US I started a newsletter to tell his story and try to raise support, and that’s how Peace Gospel International was birthed. That was 18 years ago. During this time, I worked in the music industry and started my own dot-com which I operated for about 10 years. Toward the end of that run, I transitioned into full-time work with Peace Gospel International. My time as an entrepreneur with an online presence offered me a lot of experience that I feel I’ve been able to translate into the charitable field.

DC: Tell us more about your nonprofit, Peace Gospel and the work you do with them?

KT: Yes, I’m the founder and director of the organization. Stateside, it’s just me, a 12-member volunteer governing board and 2 part-time staff members. Overseas, we empower our native teams with the ability to multiply donations through agricultural enterprise. This provides sustainability in our mercy-based projects: caring for orphans, child trafficking victims, at-risk women and destitute children of the slums. Our work began in India 18 years ago. Today we’re working in several of the world’s poorest nations in Asia and Africa.

DC: Since when have you been on Instagram?

KT: I first got on Instagram May 15, 2011 when I was at a concert and wanted to post a photo of the band on twitter. I remembered a friend used Instagram on twitter and decided to sign up for an account.

DC: Do you have a theme or a specific purpose around the photos that you share?

KT: I enjoy posting photos from my travels to reveal many of the intriguing sights I see on the “road less traveled.” Overall I just want people to join me on my adventures, to allow them to peer in on what I’m seeing. As we study one consistent subject across cultures we can learn a lot about the human spirit and the socio-economic condition of that subject’s environment. This is why I love to focus on windows and entryways. I try to intersperse candid “human interest” shots at least once a day and tell a story about the individual I met. I have found this to be a very interesting theme for myself and my Instagram followers.

My main goal is to get people to think about the lives of others and the everyday survival challenges many in the developing world face. With my doors and windows, I like to motivate people to consider the beauty in everyday objects and that every scene has a story to tell us.

DC: What was it like in the start on Instagram? How did you get noticed and got to the massive follower base you have today. Any tips you’ll like to share?

KT: At first I totally missed the point of Instagram. I just viewed it as a platform to share photos on twitter, usually of a completely random nature without much purpose. Then I went on a trip to the Philippines in June, and immediately saw the impact Instagram was having in connecting me with my then very small group of followers. I started to get a lot of “wow” and “amazing” kinds of comments and it really motivated me to share more. With my interest in learning more about foreign cultures, I started following a lot of interesting Instagrammers out there. During travels, stuck in long lines and in transit, I began to browse hashtag galleries on Instagram and just “liked” and commented on tons of photos that were of interest to me. By interacting with other Instagram users in this way, I discover their worlds and as a result, sometimes they come over and check out my photos out of curiosity. In this way, just by liking and providing positive feedback on other’s photos, I’ve gathered more and more followers. Then, on a trip to India in July, I had the fortune of capturing some amazing images of the Taj Mahal and other iconic images in India, and those made it to the popular page on Instagram. After that, my follower base just started to mushroom and more and more of my photos started to appear on the popular page.

So my main piece of advice is, if you want to get your photos in front of more users, just interact and like photos that you’re interested in. Never ask someone to look at your photos or to follow you, as this comes across as disingenuous on Instagram. Use hashtags. This will get your photos noticed in galleries that are relevant to the subject of your photos. I’ve also entered a few contests. I won “photo of the day” back in August, and was a featured user on the “@instagood” stream; getting featured on those streams certainly helped; I picked up a few hundred followers with each. Tag your photos with #photooftheday or #instagood, etc. for a chance to be featured in those kinds of streams. Keep your favorite hashtags in a notepad note, and post them as a follow-up comment so they’re separated from your caption. Always post some kind of interesting caption. I often times see a great photo on Instagram and wished I knew more about the location or subject but it’s just blank. In my opinion, that user missed an opportunity to communicate more than just visually with me; the photo drew me in and I was hoping to learn more about it, but it left me hanging. Sometimes I’ll ask them about it, but by the time they respond I’ve already forgotten about it.

DC: Has using Instagram and your popularity helped in anyway advance the work of Peace Gospel. Any direct benefits in terms of more donations, volunteers, advocates?

KT: It was about two months ago I decided to go ahead and put our link on my profile, because I was getting a lot of questions about what I was doing in all these obscure places. Since then, we’ve received a handful of eNews sign-ups, a half-dozen or so donations, a few advocate registrations, and, my favorite success story– one of my followers sponsored an orphan in our Myanmar orphan care project. So, not a ton, but quality connections I’m excited about. As well, using Instagram has helped me sharpen how we’re interacting with more visual story-telling on Facebook and Twitter.

DC: Fans of Instagram would love to learn about your photography tools of choice?

KT: My favorite apps are (and I use them in this order): GyroCropper, Dynamic Light, and Photoforge’s in-app purchase called PopCam. Sometimes I use Camera+. Another tip: if you use Dynamic Light, be sure to check out the settings and set to higher resolution export.

DC: You are an inspiration for many, who on Instagram inspires you?

KT: Oh my, this is your hardest question because there are just so many stunning users I follow and hate to think I might leave out someone special. Currently, I’m inspired by @cachafaz (Austin), @marcellini (Germany), @klickfilm (Germany), @gabber72 (Budapest), @violasoprano (Italy), @jvdt (Normandy), @criss (Switzerland), @aikbengchia (Singapore), @timcadman (NYC), @5i (China) and @happy5lucky (Tokyo)

Filed under: Culture


Deepa Chaudhary

I have extensively worked at grass-roots from working in the slums of Mumbai to being on the frontline of numerous disaster relief efforts. I'm passionate about social entrepreneurship and I love discovering and writing about new trends in the social good space.