from Eve Jones — UK intern at Boshemia.
Cole Sprouse may be known to you as Cody from Disney’s The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, he may be known to you as the kid from Adam Sandler’s Big Daddy, or even, most recently never-takes-his-hat-off Jughead from Netflix’s Riverdale.
I too enjoyed his introverted character and, admittedly, his face in Riverdale, but after following his instagram account I was surprised by the nuance of his photography and poetic captions. There’s a lot of rubbish on social media; I don’t particularly care for a standard selfie, nor am I especially riveted by what you ate for lunch, and I’m certainly not interested in 17 post fails so awkward they’ll make me cringe, even if number 11 will surprise me.
However, Cole Sprouse’s instagram is a social media page that I enjoy following and religiously read. It is one of a few successful transfers of art from page to screen that I have seen. Even as our online lives become increasingly ephemeral, I go back again and again to this page.
Instagram is an interesting medium for art. The standard structure of instagram captions is free-verse and you can’t control line breaks—the transfer from typing the caption to its presentation on the app is idiosyncratic, and can change again if you’re reading from the computer site. But this complements the streaming narratives of Sprouse’s longer captions which tangent, then return to the image content, with linguistic elegance.
A recurring theme in his work is nature’s relationship with the human world, and urban beauty that conforms to nature’s artistic rules: sand dunes of sulphur, human portraits amidst the barren brilliance of landscape, the whir of wind farms replacing the chirp of crickets. The captions, likewise reflect this interaction—‘Years and decades are seconds and minutes to the black bird. That’s why they click, to see if they can match our clocks’ (The Clicking Crow // April 23). The idea of corvids structuring their activity around manmade constructs, such as units of time, is comforting when our lives feel so irregular and chaotic. As is the personification in ‘Nyctinastic Flowers // March 31’, where the cheeky ‘diurnal nudists’ eventually become the ‘orange arms of strangers’ and us the ‘grassy crowd surfer’. The positive portrayal of our relationship with nature is necessary, when, especially recently, it feels like nature is working against us.
But what is also central to Sprouse’s work is his satire. When he combines his photographs with these fantastical literary images, he also compares reality to our distorted vision of it and gently mocks us for confusing the two. We have become self-centred, we relish and romanticise the idea of nature bending to fit our needs, emulating us, but actually this is entirely foolish and will come back to ‘pinch’ us, as the flowers do in closing. It is our own selfishness that has lead to nature’s destruction through climate change. We have been ‘crowd surfing’ on its support but one day we’re gonna jump into that crowd and fall straight to the floor.
Time is another theme that seems to particularly bother Sprouse. It has agency (‘If time makes me enemy, its punishments I’ll bear’ // March 13). It has transformative potential (‘You’re walking on glass, or at least the makings of it […] All of it waiting to be melted and sharpened’ // March 10). It has audacity (‘punishing the morning glutton by starving the evening widow’ // Oct 5). He sees time as tangible in the objects around him. A discarded gravestone, a train carriage at dawn, the remains of youth in a house become unconscious amalgamations of their history. This reverence for time, that translates into his photography and captions both, is infectious. He incites observers to question their own appreciation of it and, particularly when in tandem with natural imagery, mortality.
Even if contemplating mortality isn’t your thing, or you think this analysis is a load of bollocks, the frequent lamentation of love and emotion in his captions and his open description of photography as a remedy for his depression, break down aspects of stereotypical masculinity which can be so harmful for men. In addition, his numerous portraits of women portray them as defying the male gaze and multi-dimensional, even if they are all wearing designer clothes.
The themes that Cole Sprouse explores such as time, nature and love have been depicted by poets for centuries, so while interesting, that’s nothing new. But his use of instagram as a vehicle for his art, rather than simply a platform is something few others have tackled so successfully. When so much of our daily content online is engineered for quick likes, he could be the beginning of a new generation of artists and poets who, without compromising quality, fully embrace our era’s modernity.