What Instagram taught us about the inauguration

Editor’s Note: Katie Hawkins-Gaar (@katiehawk) is the editor of CNN iReport.

Story highlights

CNN iReport and Instagram teamed up to see who attended the inauguration and why

More than 10,300 people sent in photos, and the pictures paint a diverse portrait of the crowd

"To be part of something that is so patriotic and historic is so exciting," said one iReporter

Washington was a sea of smartphones snapping photos on Monday throughout the pomp and circumstance of Inauguration Day. Between the glamorous gowns, the presidential oath, and the parade of marching bands, it was a day meant to be documented.

But we made a discovery during it all: Just as interesting as the photos themselves were the people taking them.

Back in 2009, the inauguration was a huge deal – an estimated 1.8 million people packed the National Mall to see America’s first African-American president make history. Not surprisingly, CNN iReport saw a record number of contributions that day: nearly 12,000 submissions of “the moment,” when President Obama took the oath of office.

This time, things were different. There were fewer attendees – officials estimated between 800,000 to 900,000 people attended Monday’s inauguration. But, more importantly, the social media landscape has dramatically changed in the past four years. So this time around, we invited our audience to document the inauguration through Instagram, the mobile photo-sharing site that was launched in October 2010 and now boasts an impressive 90 million monthly active users.

The call to action was simple – we invited attendees to take an Instagram shot of themselves during the inaugural festivities, tag the photo #cnn, and share why they made the trek to Washington – and the end result was fantastic. Between Sunday and Monday, we received more than 10,300 photos and showcased some of the best submissions in a custom interactive. Others uploaded photos to iReport, CNN’s global participatory news community.

Together, the photos tell you a story about the people assembled for Obama’s second inauguration.

The crowd was diverse, made up of people old and young, black and white. There were families and groups of friends. For some, it was their first inauguration. Others were back to see Obama’s inaugural speech a second time. It was cold and sunny, as evidenced by the number of winter hats and sunglasses in the crowd. At least one attendee, though, used her shades to block more than just the sunshine. “I was a total crybaby out there,” she wrote.

American flags were the other accessory du jour. “Don’t even think about going without a flag,” advised iReporter Lisa Clemans-Cope, mother of two young girls. At least one attendee made a point to stand out among the rest – in a clever homemade “Obama Care Bear” costume.

There were notable attendees in the crowd – “Glee’s” Darren Criss, Rep. Grace Meng, D-New York, and comedian Hal Sparks all joined the Instagram + iReport project – alongside average citizens. And most everyone was grinning ear to ear, except for one man who documented his frustration with the glitchy Mall television feed.

Finally, there were the stories behind the photos. Renee Chrisman shared a photo of her husband, Gunnery Sgt. Bradley Chrisman, who was chosen to escort inaugural VIPs onto the stage. Renee and their children were glued to the television set at home in North Carolina hoping to see Bradley in action. “We caught a glimpse of him standing to the right of the president,” she gushed.

Political science student John White took notes during the ceremony. “I plan on pursuing a career in national politics,” he said. “Now that I am beginning to lay out the work for my future career, this inauguration is my first step.”

And for Becky Primeaux, attending the inauguration meant she could cross off an item on her “bucket list.”

“To be part of something that is so patriotic and historic is so exciting,” she said. “I think every American should (attend an inauguration) in their life.”