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