With 1,506 likes and counting, Humans of Princeton is making its presence known in the Facebook community just a few weeks after launching. Created to“serve as a tool to get a brief but impactful view on a range of people's lives as humans in this beautiful town,” the project is growing in popularity on campus. Scrolling through the page, one encounters photographs that tell stories of someone playing a ukulele in a hospital in Senegal or embracing the fluidity of life or expressing the desire to return to one’s own homeland.
Rachel Park '17 started the project, choosing Princeton because “the town is bursting with youth, energy, potential and maybe a bit too much of preppiness.” Park also believed that many of the conversations on campus were too career-focused or systematic. As a result, Park decided to interview people and pose questions that would allow her and all the followers of the page to get to know others simply as humans who are beautiful but vulnerable at times.
When Park first discovered Humans of New York, she immediately knew she wanted to start a project of her own. “I wanted to pick up my camera, meet new people and push myself out of my comfort zone. There was something beautiful about the human interaction that Humans of New York had,” she said. Although starting the project wasn’t too difficult, Park was initially fearful of the possibility of rejection. “Almost all of my subjects were random encounters — I just went up to strangers and talked to them,” she explained. For every “yes,” she found that she experienced around 3-4 “no"s. “It helped me develop a tough skin — no matter how outgoing you are, talking to strangers is not a comfortable thing to do. It was hard at first, but the encounters I’ve had were so worth it,” Park said.
Park starts each encounter with a smile. She introduces herself as a Princeton University student and explains the concept to strangers. “I always start with the question: Who or what is most important to you? It can be a person, book, philosophy — anything,” she explained. “The question is a great conversation opener, because it’s something that not a lot of people think about daily.” From there, Park carries on the conversation naturally, asking questions and listening to responses. As her closing question, Park asks strangers what they would do if they didn’t have to worry about restrictions like money or a career. “Knowing peoples’ dreams in the purest form always fascinates me,” she said. Before she leaves, she photographs the stranger and tries to capture the essence of who they seem to be during the interview. “The photos have to reveal something about the person – I try to take them so the eyes of the people have stories to tell,” she said.
Beyond enjoying the popularity of the page, the project has been rewarding for Park in other ways. “It usually takes around 13 minutes to get the content I want for the project, but some people talk with me for two hours," Park said. "These people don’t know anything about me, yet they open up so much; they just kept sharing. It was just so eye-opening.”
At Princeton, Park felt it was hard to get that kind of intimate interaction with people because students are so busy, but she found the project was a great way to do something that isn't necessarily related to academics. As a freshman, Park found that she has learned a lot from the project. “Coming into this school, I’m trying to find out what kind of values I look for in a person. Talking to all these different people helped me organize my thoughts,” she said.
As for the future, Park hopes to get her own website, or even to hold a photo exhibition at Princeton. Ultimately, the mission of Humans of Princeton is to inspire. “I want my viewers to get some sort of comfort and reflection," Park said. "I want them to look at the photos and to be challenged — I want them to have the time to reflect on what’s important to them.”