Instagram pop-up opens in Kitchener charging selfie-lovers for photo ops

Call it the Sears portrait studio for a new generation — "Vivid Dreams" is underway in Kitchener, offering paying customers the chance to take photos in front of splashy backgrounds.

The pop-up is building on the Toronto trend of providing manufactured photo ops for social media.

23-year-old Gabi Mattos spent part of her Sunday at the pop-up jumping out of a life-size gift box, while her friend's sister took photos.

"I'm definitely guilty of being one of those basic girls. I love going into pop-ups and love getting some Instagram content," said Mattos.

She drove down from Toronto, where she's been to several pop ups already.

"Every time a new one comes up, I'm there," she said.

Instagram pop-ups have been a trend for years now in Toronto, but Vivid Dreams organizer Chantelle Bonham believes hers is the first of its kind in Kitchener. 

"I think it's nice that a lot of people from Kitchener … now have one in their own backyard," said Bonham, who has attended many similar events in Toronto.

Balloons, glitter and blow-up couches

Vivid Dreams has 12 backgrounds to choose from on the top floor of Chicopee Tube Park's lodge, ranging from a faux picnic scene with a wine glass filled with red candle wax, to a room filled with pink $100 bills.

Bonham said one of the most popular is the New Year's Eve scene that features metallic "2020" balloons and a heaping pile of glitter.

"People get a whole handful and they just blow it, so you get like all the sparkles in the camera," said Bonham.

General admission tickets for the pop-up cost $20 while weekday tickets cost $15. Visitors are also asked to bring donations for the Food Bank of Waterloo Region.

By Sunday of opening weekend, Bonham estimated that about 150 people had been through and that they had generated about $1,000 in revenue.

Bonham said she is expecting between 1,000 and 1,500 attendees by the time the pop-up wraps up.

Pop-ups 'incredibly lucrative'

Paula Duhatschek/CBC

Aimee Morrison, an associate professor at the University of Waterloo, said it's hard to know exactly much the pop-up industry is worth.

"There's probably not an easier way to make money using Instagram," she said.

"Being an influencer is hard work, to get sponsored content is hard work, to get paid for appearances is hard work ... to set up a series of easily photographed situations very cheaply and then charging people not a cheap amount for admission — this is a very fast way to make money."

Like most trends, Morrison said she expects the Instagram pop-up will come and go. But in the meantime, she said there's "ironic good fun" to be had in taking faux picnic photos.

She said that's especially true given that people typically go to pop-ups with their friends. 

"It's bringing a little bit of communication or connection among people ... because you really can't do this by yourself, you need somebody with you to take your picture," she said. 

Paula Duhatschek/CBC

Rickie Chaves, 23, agrees. She takes her Instagram feed seriously — often taking multiple photos to select just the right one, and using an app to plan out her future posts.

Still, Chaves said she expects there will come a day when Instagram will become passé and another trend will take over.

"Like Facebook," she said. "It all dies and then it's like a new thing."

Even if the platform disappears, Chaves said she'll still remember the fun she had while taking photos at an Instagram pop-up.

"It's still memories for sure," she said. "It's not just pictures."