Humans of New York Comes to Carroll
By Jack Sherman
Humans of New York was born by accident in 2010 when amateur photographer Brandon Stanton lost his job as a stock trader and decided against his mother’s wishes that he was going to pack his bags, fly to Manhattan and take pictures of the people he met. His incredible gamble paid off – Humans of New York is now a blog with over 8 million followers on social media.
Five years later, “Humans of…” projects have been created in countless cities across America. As of 2014, Carroll University is home to its own: Humans of Carroll. Hannah Amodeo, president of the photography organization at Carroll, gave some insight behind how the project was born. “Carroll Senior Alina Krone approached Photography Org and Century Magazine with an idea for a collaborative Humans of Carroll Project,” stated Amodeo.
The goal of the project is simple: find students on campus engaging in their regular, everyday routines – be it standing in line at Second Cup, studying in the furthest corner of the Learning Commons, or furiously editing a paper behind a computer screen in the basement of Newhall – and ask them a question or two. These questions are intended to strike an emotional chord with their respondents that elicit honest, human answers. The ability to divulge such personal information to a complete stranger sounds difficult in theory, but in practice, it creates a unique dynamic: the exchange is risk-free. People have no reason to lie to someone they do not know.
While Humans of Carroll was not created by a jobless photographer betting on success, it was born with Stanton’s search for honesty and intimacy in mind. “Any ‘Humans of…’ is about documenting a specific place’s inhabitants. What comes out of this documentation is raw truth, human connection, and a sense of community,” states Amodeo. The members of Humans of Carroll are trying to find just that – the “raw truth” that students appear to hide so easily while quietly studying or hustling off to their next class.
To that end, photographer Robert Colletta commented on what it was like to document other students through his pictures. “We tried to vary the spots we shot at. We wanted a truly representative cross-section of Carroll,” he noted, bringing up an interesting point: Humans of Carroll gives each student an equal opportunity to share his or her own story. A physical therapy major entering grad school is just as likely to receive an interview as a first year undecided major taking general education courses – and that level of diversity is the beauty of a project like this.
In their search for an accurate representation of that diversity, pictures were taken as candidly as possible. “For most of the images we tried to capture natural moments or poses,” Colletta said. “There was usually some basic direction from photographers, but we wanted to keep the heart of the images natural and spontaneous,” he continued. To add to the anonymity, subjects were not aware that they were going to be interviewed or photographed prior to the very moment they were asked.
While it draws largely on Stanton’s original concept, Humans of Carroll is unique in several distinct ways. “Instead of one guy, with one camera, and one personality, we had five or so different groups of two (one photographer, one interviewer or in some cases the photographer just worked alone) go out together and tag-team the project. I think that working in pairs and having multiple photographers may produce a different effect in the end presentation,” said Amodeo.
Another aspect that makes Humans of Carroll quite different than Humans of New York is the sheer difference in geographic size – Carroll University is no Big Apple. However, the small campus does not inherently make its inhabitants any closer than strangers in New York City. “As for Humans of Carroll, I think it is easy to get too comfortable in a place – especially one as small as Carroll – and forget that there are so many special and unique people around you. We can learn so much from stepping outside our comfort zone and engaging with a stranger,” Amodeo noted, and it seems as though the project is providing a vehicle for students to do exactly that.
However, Humans of Carroll was not formed without its own set of hardships. “This was the first year of this project, and, of course, like any first it had its bumps along the way,” said Amodeo. “We are very proud of how this first year turned out but have dreams to expand the project even further in the future.” Currently, that expansion includes creating a signature Humans of Carroll blog that can be used to document, compile, and archive the stories of students for years to come.
For now, the results of the Humans of Carroll project will be made physically available. “Humans of Carroll will be displayed in the Atrium Gallery (the long hallway with the skylight roof) in the Humphrey Art Center during World Wellness Week,” Amodeo said. There, pictures of students and their personal stories will be on exhibit all week.
Members of Humans of Carroll have already been touched by their classmates’ stories. Reflecting on his experiences, Colletta noted that “at times it seemed that people had been waiting for someone to ask them just that very [interview] question. There was often a moment’s pause after they got done answering where I would just have to take a moment and collect myself.” In only its first year, Humans of Carroll has found a way to connect with so many individuals on such an intimate level. As long as there are stories to tell and individuals brave enough to share them, it will continue to do so.