Student’s Humans of Princeton project finds the magic in random encounters

Chanyoung Park ’17
Chanyoung Park ’17
Courtesy Chanyoung Park ’17

Chanyoung Park ’17 was frustrated: Arriving at Princeton from a nearby private school, she was surprised by the superficiality of many of the conversations with her peers.

“After two weeks, it was like, ‘I don’t want to know where you’re from anymore, you know?’” she said.

So Park walked around campus with her camera and began to photograph people for what became Humans of Princeton (HOP), which she describes as “an ongoing photo-documentary project brought by random encounters and the simple magic of asking questions.”

Park took inspiration from one of her favorite Facebook pages — Humans of New York, created by photographer Brandon Stanton in 2010 to “create a photographic census of New York City.” It became an Internet sensation, and in 2013, Stanton published a book with the same title.

Over the last year, Park has spoken to and taken pictures of more than 100 people in Princeton; about half are students at the University. Once the interview is over, she picks the most intriguing segment and posts it on the HOP Facebook page along with a photo of the subject, who is not identified.

“I’d like to think that my photos represent the people of Princeton with dignity,” Park said. “I purposely don’t even ask their names because I just want to connect to them as human to human, and I think that sense of anonymity allows not only me but the interviewee to be more personal and vulnerable. And in such honesty, I think, comes dignity.”

Her subjects typically have two things in common: They’re alone and they’re sitting down. “In order to have a conversation, you need to talk to someone who has time for you,” Park said.

The conversation always begins with the same question from Park: What’s the most important thing in your life right now?

“I’m fascinated by how many different answers I’ve gotten to that same question,” she said.

Park sees HOP as a breath of fresh air from the effects social media have in discouraging human interaction. “This deprivation of real conversation in today’s world is very disturbing to me,” she said.

And her advice for potential HOP subjects who don’t think that they have stories to tell? “You do.”

Photos: Humans of Princeton

“When I have a mid-life crisis in my late 20s, I’ll change tracks, screw molecular biology, and become a photojournalist.”
“When I have a mid-life crisis in my late 20s, I’ll change tracks, screw molecular biology, and become a photojournalist.”
“I feel like I spent my first two years trying to fit in and trying to find where I could fit in. I wish I had been myself from the get-go. Now it’s just being me and working from there.”
“I feel like I spent my first two years trying to fit in and trying to find where I could fit in. I wish I had been myself from the get-go. Now it’s just being me and working from there.”
“I’m not a responsible person, but I’m starting to get to a point where I follow through completely with things I’ve set for myself.”
“I’m not a responsible person, but I’m starting to get to a point where I follow through completely with things I’ve set for myself.”
“Don’t ever just sit back and watch other people be creative. Be creative yourself, and when you do, your soul feels better. … In other words: Draw, sing, do something!”
“Don’t ever just sit back and watch other people be creative. Be creative yourself, and when you do, your soul feels better. … In other words: Draw, sing, do something!”
“I had my 90th birthday about two weeks ago, so we had a party. ... Something that may interest you is that I went to MIT. I was the fifth woman to get a Ph.D. in mathematics. And what brings me here is I always come to Princeton to use the library, to
“I had my 90th birthday about two weeks ago, so we had a party. ... Something that may interest you is that I went to MIT. I was the fifth woman to get a Ph.D. in mathematics. And what brings me here is I always come to Princeton to use the library, to do my research.”