Connor Dwyer & La Force de la Joie de Vivre

Connor Dwyer—a twenty-five-year-old photographer and graphic designer whose subjects have included Pope Francis, six strawberries, and the folk-hop group Judah and the Lion—possesses something the French call joie de vivre.

Joie de vivre | Noun | The joy of living; exuberance, ebullience, and a zest for life; the knack of knowing how to live.

Joie de vivre captures the essence of Connor Dwyer better than any English words I could use, which isn’t a surprise since I often find myself indebted to the French: today for their language, every day for their baguettes.

Most recently, Dwyer’s joie de vivre led him to Iceland to see the Northern Lights, one of the two experiences on his purposefully-short bucket list. Dwyer almost couldn’t form words when he was telling me about the experience, still filled with a kind of awe that leaves all us tongue-tied at one time or another. He shared how he was brought to tears over the beauty of not just the Northern Lights, but the circumstances that allowed for him to even see them after an evening blizzard had derailed his hopes.

“It was truly mind-blowing,” Dwyer declared.

“Spectacular!”

I replied with my own story about a time I once cried upon tasting the most incredibly delicious mango I’d ever had.

“Incredible!!” Dwyer exclaimed.

“That just made my day!”

Dwyer’s capacity for wonder and delight in the everyday converted me into a follower of his Instagram two summers ago. His gallery of 1,200+ photos is a collection of everyday treasures curated with care. The photos are colorful and exuberant— full of fun and whimsy. A hotdog dons a birthday candle, prepared to party on the Fourth of July; a girl wearing a taco hat jumps in front of a wall painted to look like confetti.

Many of the photos are of simple objects—stuff that’s easy to ignore or at least overlook. But through the eye and lens of Connor Dwyer, each photo is a monument for la joie de vivre. They celebrate everyday objects and environments. They force us to lean in. We can't help but want a closer look. Is it FOMO, or something more?

When you dig deeper into Connor-Dwyer-the-person and not just Connor-Dwyer-the-Instagrammer, (which is the point of this blog, ICYMI), you’ll discover that Dwyer is a Jedi of sorts—a Jedi with a mind trick that beckons joy from everyday things and awakens eyewitnesses. The force is strong in this one, and as Darth Vader once said, “Don’t underestimate the Force.”

Don’t misunderstand me: Dwyer didn’t gain 80,000 followers on Instagram by forcing some kind of manipulative mind-trick on unsuspecting iPhone users. Dwyer’s creative exuberance for life is what got all 80,000 of us to hit that blue ‘follow’ button. And since then, it seems that we’ve all realized that we like it here. There’s something special about the jumping girl in the taco hat and the hot dog with the birthday candle, and yeah, even those six strawberries in a row.

So who is this person we’re all following—the one who cries at the sky?

He’s a rebel with a cause. A creator unconcerned with ‘cool.’ An artist with an eye for the unseen. He's a person I want to keep following.

Le Réveil de la Force

THE FORCE AWAKENS

The son of a quirky college professor dad and an artistic mom, the Dwyer home was a place where creativity and joy found hospitality. In preschool, Dwyer’s parents noticed he had a good drawing ability, so they encouraged him to develop his interest. When Dwyer was four,  the principal of an arts school out of Louisiana Tech offered him a scholarship to attend after seeing his drawing of a helicopter. (Impressive, considering that I got a ‘P’ on my pre-school report card for my scissor skills. Note: ‘P’ does not stand for perfect or even proficient, but either poor, pathetic, painful, or please-someone-help-this-child.)

When Dwyer’s brothers would play outside, he chose to spend his time building dinosaurs and spaceships out of Legos. As the years passed, his focus shifted to sports. Dwyer was a self-proclaimed jock, playing football, running track, and even powerlifting. During The Letterman Jacket Years, Dwyer’s creativity was never shelved. In class, he drew (he still has a three inch tall stack of sketches and doodles he drew on notebook paper during class). Between classes, Dwyer and his friends started collaborating and creating what he described as Far Side-inspired comics. After school, he started playing the drums with some other friends who had embarked on the timeless, high school tradition of forming a garage band. By the end of high school, creativity had cemented its place in Dwyer’s life.

This first encounter with the world of design helped Connor realize that he was magnetically drawn this discipline: where art and ideas and color and communication come together in ways he was just beginning to learn about. This was the beginning of something big.

After high school, Dwyer went on to University of Arkansas where he’d spend a year studying in their school of architecture. His grades and feedback in studios were great, but there was a major problem: he didn’t want to be an architect. After leaving home and undergoing a shift in lifestyle, Dwyer began to reevaluate his choices. Is this what he wanted? “I liked the creative aspect of it, but I realized I wasn’t passionate about making buildings,” he said.

The next fall, he pivoted. Inspired by change-making entrepreneurs (i.e., TOMS), Dwyer switched his major to Marketing. During this time, Dwyer also enrolled in art classes and began practicing photography. It was an escape from the world of finance and flow charts, a way of reconnecting with that kid who drew the helicopter all those years ago. By the end of his sophomore year, Dwyer took over 20,000 photos of his friends, road trips, guitars, and even some inanimate edible objects as well. (My favorite!)

And remember those guys he hung out with in high school with the garage band? They all had moved to Nashville in pursuit of their dream and needed some album art done. So who did they call? Their garage-band companion. Equipped with trial editions of Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, Dwyer completed some design work for the band, a project that got him “super hyped.” This first encounter with the world of design helped him realize that he was magnetically drawn this discipline: where art and ideas and color and communication come together in ways he was just beginning to learn about. This was the beginning of something big.

Commencer à créer

STARTING TO CREATE

Before Connor Dwyer had 80,000 followers on Instagram, he was just a college student who carried around a DSLR in his backpack. “Most of the photos I took were pretty bad. Really bad,” he told me, laughing.

As Dwyer’s friends started posting their own really bad photos on this new app called ‘Instagram,’ he decided to join them. Well…kind of. While most of us were posting photos of our shoes with the Nashville filter, a black vignette border, and a caption containing a line from Emerson’s “Leaves of Grass,” he decided to approach this new social network differently. And not in a pretentious way, but with a kind of compelling curiosity to “capture boring things in an interesting way.” Equipped with a brand spanking new iPhone and his characteristic zest for life, Dwyer was eager to embrace this new age of image-sharing and make the everyday look awesome.

“My mind had been in that space—observing nature and the environment around me and seeing interesting things in the world. I guess the lifestyle I led and grew up with made me appreciate the little things.” La joie de vivre.

As the weeks went by and those business-flow charts kept, well, flowing, Dwyer decided to embark on a creative challenge: post a new photo on Instagram every day for a year. During that year, he’d end up winning one of the first Instagram-curated Weekend Hashtag Projects he’d entered, boosting his reach and helping him realize that he might really like this Instagram thing. One particular post he shared went so viral overnight that when he woke up, his phone's battery was dead. Unbeknownst to Dwyer, he had gained 4,000 new followers as he slept. In another two weeks, Dwyer gained 20,000 new followers. “It was nuts!” he said.

The rest, it seems, is history. Throughout college, Dwyer posted daily and entered Instagram’s weekend hashtag projects. His following expanded, his photos became more consistent, and then something started occurring.

“It was this weird thing that happened; people started calling me a photographer! So it was at that point that I decided I better buy a nicer camera,” Dwyer admitted, a piece of equipment whose settings he didn’t even really understand at first. (Can I get an AMEN?) Nevertheless, he persisted.

It was this weird thing that happened; people started calling me a photographer!
— Connor Dwyer

As college graduation loomed, Connor realized that he needed more training to take his graphic design to the next level. That fall, he headed to Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) for their two-year Master's program in graphic design. These years held many important moments. He began working with musicians including Judah and the Lion,  collaborated with brands like Warby Parker, and—oh yeah, almost forgot—went on assignment to photograph the Pope. Yeah, that Pope. THE Pope. (For those ‘pics or it didn’t happen!’ folks: please refer to this gallery of photos published on CNN.)

The Pope was arguably the most significant person Connor got connected with through Instagram, but there have been plenty of other remarkable people he’s met as well. Strangers became followers, and followers became friends. These friends would go on to help him do things like travel to Israel and collaborate on the design of a coloring book for the entire city of Atlanta. Pretty cool for a guy whose creative journey started with some doodles.

Vivre dans le présent

LIVING IN THE PRESENT

So what gives? What’s his secret? How the heck do you:

  1. Get 20,000 new Instagram followers in two weeks

  2. Become friends with a ton of cool people

  3. Get asked to photograph THE ACTUAL POPE during his first visit to America!?

Now is the part of the story where you might be asking for the outline, the #Top10Tips, a description of what Connor Dwyer eats for breakfast. If that’s what you’re here to learn, I’m going to disappoint you, because that’s not what I’m here to write about. What I am here to write about is Connor Dwyer’s story— how his dreams drew breath, how his hopes became realities, how this whole big adventure got its start.

To you, this might sound like a narrative of luck— of being in the right place at the right time, with the right personality traits and talents. And in some ways, those things are part of Dwyer’s story. But the more I talked with Dwyer, his story emerged as one of many layers. Each moment of his life builds from the previous one to make him into the person he is today—a curator of creativity, a designer, a lover of music, an adventurer and explorer of the every day, a friend to many. Drawing comics in high school was practice for Instagram, where eye-catching single-frame snapshots reign as king. Playing drums in his high school friends’ garages instilled a love of music in him that’s been a huge reason as to why he recently made the move to Nashville, Tennessee after he finished his master’s.

The more I talked with Dwyer, his story emerged as one of many layers. Each moment of his life builds from the previous one to make him into the person he is today—a curator of creativity, a designer, a lover of music, an adventurer and explorer of the every day, a friend to many.

But one moment is missing from Dwyer’s narrative. It came during his senior year of high school: before he was a college student or a designer or photographed the Pope or had 42,000 people following an account of photos of his finger with different faces drawn on it. The moment— I think he’d agree— is why he is the person he is: a man with joie de vivre. I think it’s what he’d say was the most formative experience of all, and we haven't talked about it yet.

It was the day he decided to follow Jesus.

Dwyer doesn't hide his faith when he tells you his story, so I'm not going to either. After all, Dreams Go Live is a platform for diving deeper in a person's story.

So let’s dive.

Poursuivre la lumière

PURSING THE LIGHT

Caring about Jesus and telling others that you do is not always a fast-pass to ‘cool’. But being cool has never been Dwyer’s goal. Cool was not the end-game. Fame, likability, and recognition were not the things that fueled his pursuit.

Dwyer didn’t get an Instagram account so people would think he was cool; he did it because he saw beauty all around and wanted others to see it, too.

“If you’re not loving what you’re doing at the moment, when will you ever love it? Celebrate the little things that you’re doing today.”

He doesn’t hang out with popular bands because they make him feel important; he hangs out with them because they can encourage each other to pursue excellence in their creativity.

“These people we see from afar—they are just people. They need love and they need to know their worth. They need to be encouraged.”

He didn’t move to Nashville because a lot of hip people live there; he moved there because he’s passionate about encouraging any community he’s a part of.

“I want to be able to befriend artists and tell them that and that they are enough in who they are right now, and that God has an amazing plan and purpose for each and every one of us.”

He didn’t start posting about Jesus so he’d have some kind of cosmic-karma-force on his side to win him 20,000 followers in two weeks. He did it because the message he’s sharing changed him, and wants others to know about, too.

“Whether it’s the desk clerk, the cafeteria lady, the janitor—I want to meet them. Show them honor. Love on them because they deserve that...It’s my heart’s greatest desire to be a light wherever I would go. That I would be an encouragement to people and allow them to see themselves in a true light of who they are, and how God loves him."

In an age where cynicism is in style, Dwyer remains unconcerned with being cool. He speaks about being a Christian unapologetically, but with sensitivity. When Dwyer talked about his faith, his voice contained the same sound of wonder as when he was sharing his experience of seeing the Northern Lights.

“Mind-blowing.”

“Spectacular!”

“Incredible!”

His passion made my day.

Emmerçant la joie de la vie

EMBODYING THE JOY OF LIFE

As all 80,000 of us continue to follow along with Connor’s story, I find myself compelled to join in this rebellion a la joie de la vie.

In a day where apathy is accepted and empathy is scarce, I think we all could live a little more like Connor Dwyer. Maybe we all could become Jedis of joy. We could appreciate the color of a kiwi. Tell a stranger their socks are cool. Wave hello to the mailman. Shed more tears of delight over cloud formations and delicious mangos. Kick cynicism to the curb. Throw hope around like confetti.

Life might not always be a party, but that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate it from time to time.

So, reader, join me in grabbing a glass, a Capri Sun, a Nalgene water bottle—whatever’s near—because I’m proposing a toast. Let’s raise a glass to Connor Dwyer: a maker, a dreamer, a Jedi of joy whose force comes from beyond.

Cheers! À votre santé, à votre espoir, à votre joie!


To dive deeper into Connor’s work, follow him on Instagram, or explore his website. Thanks for reading! Let’s keep throwing hope and joy around like confetti!