Graffiti artists are chasing filters and fame as the world of street art moves online to Instagram.
University of Melbourne researchers say the social platform is changing the way underground artists produce and share their work.
In their study of Melbourne-based Instagram accounts they found that sharing a photo of graffiti on social media gave the artist a sense of their work's permanency.
The University of Western Sydney's Dr Cameron McAuliffe agrees.
“Instagram is the new way that graffiti artists can get out there," he said.
"It’s a way of getting respect and fame; these are important things in the subculture.”
The Instagram account sydney_panels was early to the game. Created in 2014, it boasts being "Sydney's most popular panel page".
Its creator prefers to remain anonymous but mostly shares photos of illegal graffiti on trains or public property.
Kalsykosmainline’ is another Sydney based Instagram account. It was only created this year but already has 4000 followers and more than 3000 posts.
The account creator, who goes by the name "Kalsy Kos", says Instagram is popular because it provides exposure.
"Graff writers can do something and they don’t care if it gets cleaned because they take flicks when they finish and then it's on Insta for all to see."
Both account creators post images of their own graffiti as well as images sent in by other artists.
Dr McAuliffe says it all comes down to thrill and risk.
“If someone sees an image online of graffiti that has been done on a dangerous or, say, really hard to reach spot - then the more pay off you get from doing it... [and] other people may want to try [it]. Risk is what drives that,” he said.
Street artists are also using Instagram hashtags to promote their graffiti tags.
The research showed that they function as searchable signatures: "that move beyond their descriptive or indexical function and become attached to aspects of social identity and status."
Dr McAuliffe says it's an expression of identity and can be about "marking territory"
"And that leads to fame and respect amongst their peers,"
The creator of sydney_panels said that in the past, writers would rely on getting their name up on the streets through dedication and persistence.
"This meant travelling all [around the] city with tags, throwies and pieces. Today, social media provides a shortcut to spread your name globally.”
But the trend has also given rise to online competition.
“This is an ego sport and that means getting your name out there. If you’re not on Instagram, you’re missing out on a massive audience," Kalsy Kos said.
"I see guys and comments, and think they get competitive to outdo each other and see who can get the most followers. They also send their photos to pages like [mine] and a lot of other Sydney graffiti pages - to get their fame."
While hashtags like #sydneygraffiti are increasingly popular, artists are opting to remain anonymous to avoid being caught by police.
A spokesperson for NSW Police said it’s unlikely they could tap into Instagram to criminalise offenders: “We would have to have an agreement... to use Instagram as evidence in court. It would be more of an intelligence-gathering tool than a prosecution tool."
But some artists have decided to leave illegal graffiti behind and focus on the legitimate promotion of their work.
“Some graffiti artists on Instagram see it right from the start as a pathway to becoming professional artists," Dr McAuliffe said.
This was the case for popular Sydney street artist theoxking who also has more than 5000 Instagram followers.
"I started painting walls a little bit before Instagram happened and was reasonably late in adopting it, but now it is pretty much my only social media presence,” he said.
Earlier this year, theoxking painted a mural on a wall at Bondi Beach and added his Instagram handle to the design.
“Bondi was one of the few walls I painted this year with that [Instagram] in mind. To be honest, most big public walls are very valuable for that reason. Spots like that work as a great canvas but also as a billboard for your work."
Working together with a common goal was the inspiration behind the relatively new Instagram account, @the_love_project
“This is at its core a very simple concept... promote a positive message and raise the frequency as a collective,” it reads on the account profile.
theOxKing says these sorts of projects stay away from the “business card model” of Instagram, which is currently dominating the fight for likes and followers.