If you’ve been on Facebook recently, you may have at some point stumbled across the page called Humans of New York. The page is insanely popular, with 1,424,016 likes and thousands of comments and shares on each post. The premise is relatively simple: every couple of days, photographer Brandon Stanton posts portraits of and quotes from interviews with random New Yorkers he approaches on the street. Sometimes the posts are funny, sad, touching, or just plain bizarre (i.e. the portrait of a man with a neon green curly beard and a pigeon sitting on his head). The page has inspired many spin-offs, including Humans of London, Humans of Singapore, my particular favorite, Hummus of New York (pictures of Hummus photoshopped into iconic New York locations), and now, Humans of Princeton. The Princeton version has gathered a lot of attention, and already in it’s first month it’s gotten 1,654 likes.
I wanted to find out a bit more about who started the Humans of Princeton Facebook page and why. Her name is Rachel Park, and she’s a freshman in Forbes. Here’s our conversation.
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Alexandria: What’s your favorite part of photographing people for the project?
Rachel: When my photography captures that person from what I’ve heard from the interview… maybe they’re a different person overall, but if I can capture what I heard from them, I’m very happy about that.
A: Who was the person you connected with the most that you interviewed?
R: The first person I interviewed, Scot Tasker […] when I talked to him we ended up talking for an hour and it was just such a real conversation, if that makes sense. We talked about life, what makes us happy, what makes people happy, what people are afraid of. It was such a great beginning to my project that after the interview that I had with him I just felt like this was a project that was really worth keeping on.
A: During your interview with WPRB you said that Princeton was the first place that you lived in the US. Where did you live before?
R: Korea, I’m an international student.
A: How long did you live there until?
R: 5th grade
A: And then you moved to the town here?
R: What happened was in 5th grade I went to Canada to learn English for the first time, really, for six months in a homestay program. Sixth grade I came to Princeton to live with my sister, who was attending Westminster choir, and my mom. Then in seventh grade I went back to home Korea and in eighth grade I went back to school here and lived with just my sister. Then I went to boarding school nearby […] Complicated, I know
A: Where would you identify as your “home,” then?
R: Definitely Korea, because that’s where my family is, and I go home every break. But where my American high school is [about 20 minutes away from Princeton], I consider home too, because I physically lived there for four years.
A: Is four years the longest you’ve ever lived in one place?
A: How have you connected personally to the town of Princeton?
R: Princeton is the only America I know. I’ve never been to the South, I’ve never been to the Midwest. […] It’s a small but very interesting town.
A: How has doing this project changed your sense of connection to Princeton?
R: It’s made me go outside of my comfort zone. Even if I stayed here for four years there’s no way I would be able to meet everyone, and doing this [project] means that I would have to go out of my way to meet new people. Going up to strangers is a scary thing but the conversations that come out of it are worth it.
A: Which questions do you ask people to try and provoke a human response from them?
R: My interviews are never really Q&A; I ask a broad question and then we just kind of start talking. I don’t start it with where do you live, where are you from. I ask: what’s the most important thing to you, religion, person, anything. That’s a very open question but it gets to the core of a person because it we essentially live for what’s most important to us.
A: Have there been any common responses?
R: It’s super interesting because there’s never been any overlap to that question; no one has ever answered the same thing.
A: Has talking about other people about what’s important to them made you think about what’s important to you?
R: Every time I ask that question I almost ask it to myself too. Listening to various answers makes me think about my own. It’s all about perspective, the injection of perspective.
A: So, what’s most important to you?
R: Being a kind person […] it doesn’t matter what other people do to you, as long as you do your part in being a genuinely good person, you’ve done everything you can to make that moment good.
A: How do you think this project is different from the original humans of New York?
R: Literally the only difference is that there’s a different set of people. I also generally ask pretty different questions than he likes to ask, but ultimately what we’re trying to do is the same. We’re both trying to get a human view of our cities.
A: When’s the first time you saw the humans of New York?
R: Senior year. That’s when I first thought that it would be cool if someone could start that for Princeton.
A: How is interviewing strangers different from meeting to people for the first time in general during frosh week?
R: The big difference is that for humans of Princeton I actually have time. I am physically carving that amount of time so that I can sit down and talk to this person, whereas a lot of the encounters I have with people during frosh week are ten minutes over breakfast and then you’re off in a rush […] Princeton is such a busy place that you almost have to make an appointment to have to get to know someone. It’s kind of sad but it’s just how it is.
A: Do you think that Princeton being a very specific subsection of people that are very busy and very driven has an effect on the way that people interact with one another here?
R: Hasty encounters are a part of Princeton life. That’s part of the reason people might crave deeper connection, deeper conversations with others. People who view [Humans of Princeton] might get a surrogate connection by getting to know the person in the picture […] It might cause them to question, ‘when’s the last time I’ve had a real conversation with someone’. What I’m trying to do is remind people that that kind of connection is possible. It’s kind of easy to forget.
A: Is this project especially necessary to Princeton, in that way?
R: Yeah, I guess. My first interviewee said that people have a fear of being serious or vulnerable or genuine. And I definitely feel that that’s true especially at Princeton, because you’re expected to be exceptional. And I think that’s a reason why people might be afraid to show a weak side. This project is needed wherever there’s high pressure, or wherever people are busy. That’s why it’s an effective project in New York, and it’s why it’s effective here, too.