Australian producer, designer, curator, and photographer Ta-ku (aka Regan Matthews) operates 823 as a “platform for you to create something you’re proud of,” he says. The “you” in that sentence quite literally means anyone who wants to get involved by following 823 on Instagram or supporting their Patreon. An offshoot of 823, the Hopes and Dreams Club—which launched in April—is a photography group with monthly projects that aim to inspire participants (who pay $3 a month to take part). The Hopes and Dreams Club Instagram acts as a members-only, submission-based virtual photo gallery, where photographers of all skill levels, and from around the world, can engage with one another.
Matthews actively participates—beyond providing the monthly themes. He and the 823 team provide feedback and tips on photos, and they share submissions on the Hopes and Dreams, 823, and Matthews’ personal social channels. Plus, members are invited to online chats, as well as offered access to dedicated film-processing partners (with a friendly discount). Submissions do not need to be done on film, though, as the club encourages shooting on any device: be it a professional-grade camera or smartphone.
Resulting projects reflect this “all welcome” mentality. While some images are the product of complex camera tricks and a well-trained eye, others appear more candid, captured at the right moment on a phone. All of them are accompanied by a caption, which prove to be just as diverse as the images themselves. As Hopes and Dreams Club’s first brief, “Alone Together,” winds down, and before the start of the “ThankYOU” project, we discussed the growing club and its inspired members with Matthews.
What was the initial goal of the Hopes and Dreams Club? It launched in April, but was it a direct response to all of us being separated—at least physically?
We’ve always wanted to do something like this. We talked about it for a long time, but we never really had the time or the capacity to roll this out. We really wanted to create something that would just bring our community closer and, you know, enable our community to be creative as a group. We just wanted to let others be as creative as they can be, and for us to create some sort of intent in terms of creativity. But not only that, just to bring people closer together. When everything happened, the timing just seemed right—like, ‘OK, you know, no excuse now. We should really try and do something that’ll help our community and bring everyone closer together.’
But I think the thing that excites me the most is just to be able to be part of a collective of creatives that are all doing the same thing at one given time, no matter where we are in the world, which is what is quite beautiful about the Hopes and Dreams Club. It doesn’t cost much to become a member—we wanted to make sure that there was a reasonable price to help us just with the logistics of everything—and we make sure that everything is in the customer’s service, of course, and the member support is there as well.
What does an initiative like this mean for those seeking a creative community and some connection?
We were really blown away by the first project, “Alone Together.” We weren’t expecting such a great turnout. But also, the stories that were told—and how honest and open everyone was—was really special. I think that was really a testament to what we’re trying to achieve: this kind of initiative means that our members really have to go out there and put themselves outside their comfort zone and create something that they thought they might not have been able to create previously or do something they never really thought about, pushing how they think and feel about their own creative voice.
The beautiful thing within the private group is that we see so much support from fellow members—really kind words and feedback. The member group is really diverse and just really kind, and considerate of another. It’s really rewarding, personally, and for the group.
Do you feel like creatives (and photographers) work best when given a prompt?
Definitely. I think when you’re given something to slow down and actually think about, and be more deliberate about what you do, can really help you figure out who you are and what kind of voice you want to have. Talking personally, just having a deadline for anything really helps me push through any kind of creative block or any kind of complacency or even procrastination.
I think “Alone Together,” for instance, really helped people step outside this situation and look from the outside in to really think about how this has affected them. Some of the stories we got from the first project were beautiful. Some heartbreaking. Others were heartwarming. Some liberating. We’re really excited about where this is going to go in the future.
Do you hope that this platform offers photographers a space to experiment and to grow? What sort of feedback are you providing?
That’s the main goal. Overall, for those that want to pursue photography as a career or as a profession—for this to be a platform where they can learn, where they can ask questions, they can grow. We hope to see that over each project. And I’m not talking in just literal skill or ability, but also the ability to communicate in terms of whatever creative field they want to be in. So it’s not just photography. Whether it is music or poetry or dance, there are a lot of members that are great at other things, too, and we see that through their submissions. We hope this club is a skill-sharing platform for them to grow and increase their network.
What has surprised you most about the submissions you’ve received?
For me, it’s how beautiful the stories are. Obviously the photos are incredible, but again, photography is such a subjective thing that a beautiful photo to me might not be a beautiful photo to someone else—and that’s just the way it is. But I think one thing that we can all really be on the same page with is the message behind the submission. The messages behind some of the submissions were just really touching. I was surprised how honest, vulnerable, forthcoming, open, and raw a lot of the captions were… Some of them were like mini novels, which is not a bad thing. I think it’s amazing that they wrote so much on maybe just one photo—it reveals how much one photo can convey, the power of it.
Hero image by Hiep Nguyen (@hiepng), images courtesy of 823 / Regan Matthews / Hopes and Dreams Club