The Instafame of Neon New York City

Fernando Lions captures New York City night time in strictly neon clarity.

The man behind the neon with #nofilter. (Photo: Alexandra Sternlicht)

The man behind the neon with #nofilter. (Photo: Alexandra Sternlicht)

Neon New York City, the cult Instagram dedicated to documenting New York City through neon, has rapidly gained followers by stringing together the most haunting images from New York’s nocturnal underworld alongside highbrow neon art installations in stunning equality.

Fernando Lions, the Brooklyn resident behind the account, studied neon at the Academy of Art in San Francisco and has been fascinated by neon as an “art and science” ever since. Now boasting 25,000 followers and a plethora of dedicated contributors, Mr. Lions sat down with the Observer over dumplings and peanut noodle salad to talk NYC, tattoos and, of course, neon.

How did you start the account?

I had an Instagram account for my tattoos and I was slowly feeding neon photos into that account. I had actually had the idea for quite a while that I was going to start a secondary account to show exclusively neon. I found a friend who had a common interest—a documentarian photographing a lot of graffiti and he also had a lot of neon in his feed. We just sort of brainstormed—I pitched the idea and we just started the account from there.

So it’s gotten pretty big, can you tell me about the trajectory?

I got really lucky—Instagram selected us as a suggested user. I was actually mailed an award. They contacted me via email and they were like, ‘We’d like to show you some form of gratitude. We’re happy for you to be a part of our story—You have a unique account.’

What kind of feedback do you get?

Tons of people have been really supportive. I’m really proud of it. It’s something I’m really passionate about. [Neon] is all I look for now, when I’m in the street and I’m doing something for fun. I have a friend who’s a really successful designer and he was like, ‘you deserve some recognition for this.’ I hope one day to make a kind of look book—almost to replicate the instant gratification of the Internet.

Where does Instagram and neon fit in with your tattoos and other work?

I’m very active on Instagram because I have a tattoo account that is basically the same type of thing—a portfolio of some sort. It’s a way to stay current and keep yourself out there so people can see new work. It’s a way to self-promote.

But you do it pretty anonymously.

I’m not sure what my original plan was. I want the account to speak for itself. It’s not necessarily my work so I can’t really claim ownership to it. It’s more of a curation.

What do you look for in a submission?

A decent quality night photo. I’m strict about it being New York only, but once in a while I’ll feed in a few when I’m on vacation, if they are really unique. But [those photos] don’t get that much attention … if people know its from somewhere else they don’t really seem to care.

And how does the account symbolize New York?

New York is all about nightlife and it’s really fun to be in the streets. I’m not really sure how to explain it, but neon is just very cosmopolitan, like a tradition, so it just kind of sums [the city] up.

I don’t think neon will ever go out of style.