If you’re not one of the over 11 million people who know about this movement, here’s a bit of background. Humans of New York began in November 2010 as the brainchild of Brandon Stanton. It was his goal to photograph 10,000 New Yorkers and plot them along with their photos on a map. However, as he began his work he started interacting with those he’d photograph, and this interaction turned into an interview of sorts. Fast forward to today, and Brandon has created a vast database of the human side of New York. His many photos of unique individuals along with tidbits of their own personal insights and stories are compiled into a New York Times Bestselling book.
After the worldwide success of Humans of New York (HONY), people in cities around the world supplemented the phenomenon with work of their own: Facebook pages for Humans of Berlin, Rome, Amsterdam and San Francisco have cropped up, creating candid snapshots of everyday people.
Salt Lake City also has our very own “Humans of” movement, thanks to the talent of a man named Mike Angelieri. We got the chance to talk with Mike about his Humans of Salt Lake City project here in our hometown.
Salt Lake City is extraordinarily lucky to be one of the relatively few cities where this movement is gaining traction. Mike, a U.S. Army veteran who considers himself a Utah native, studied at the University of Utah and currently resides in Salt Lake with his wife and 18-year-old daughter. As an amateur photographer and blogger, he first developed an interest in bringing “Humans of” to Salt Lake after reading an article about HONY on MSNBC.com. After searching high and low to make sure no one else had already started in Salt Lake, he began his Facebook page and bought the domain for humansofsaltlakecity.com. Here’s the rest of our interview with Mike.
How has the experience of the project shifted your worldview?
It used to be that when I was downtown, going about my business, I didn’t take time to look at people. Not because I didn’t care but because my focus was just elsewhere. This experience has opened my eyes to the magic and majesty of people in different circumstances… I’ve discovered that in one way or another, everybody really is moving forward. Some are doing it with a certain elegance and stature…others are going about it very clumsily. I’m just trying to capture the proof that nobody is standing still.
What has been one of the most pivotal stories you’ve heard from someone whose photo you’ve taken?
The story I recently got from the woman who said she lives inside the recyclable garbage containers during the winter to keep warm really broke my heart. Here’s the story in her own words, along with a photo of her.
“I’ve been out here on the streets for three winters and I stay in the recyclable garbage cans…you’ve got paper in there and paper is the warmest thing for you so you’ve got comfort under and over you. Put the lid down…you don’t get wet from underneath or above and, being plastic, just like a plastic bag, it keeps you warm and dry and you don’t freeze to death over the winter. You can’t get in the great big ones because you might get dumped into a garbage truck. The recyclable containers are clean and big enough and it keeps you out of the weather. Nobody knows you’re there so your stuff doesn’t get stolen, and you’re warm all night. Nobody wakes you up in the middle of the night kicking you saying you’ve gotta get up and go because you can’t sleep on our sidewalks. I bet a lot of homeless people could use that info if you’d get it out there.”
Are most people pretty open with you, like the story above suggests, or are those few and far between?
Most of the time, yes, people have been open, kind, interested, and honored to be included in the project. Occasionally, I get a nasty look or reaction…no big deal. Sometimes, when I ask if I can take someone’s pic and the answer is no, well, no means no. I don’t engage in hostility or pressure.
I’ve always wondered how Brandon of HONY gets his shots — does he just stop random people on the street and ask if he can take their picture? Do you do that? What is your approach?
As I understand it, Brandon of HONY does just approach people, engages them in conversation, tells them what he is doing, gets a story from them, takes a portrait and posts it. I think New Yorkers are probably more accustomed to such unorthodoxy whereas Salt Lakers might be more wary. I tend to approach people with a conservative caution. Generally, if someone is sitting alone somewhere and unoccupied, I might strike up a conversation. Other times, if I walk by someone and smile at them and say hello…if they reply back, you can be pretty sure I’m gonna try to talk to them.
Do you ever plan on compiling your work into a book like Brandon Stanton (HONY) did?
If I can ever fully convince myself that I have enough material for a book, I would definitely pursue putting a book together. So far, I think I only have about 450 images…not sure that’s enough material.
How long do you plan on working on this project?
I have no plans to discontinue the project any time soon. I currently have had some medical issues that have kept me from taking more pix…and coincidentally, I’m not sure I want to take pix during the winter. When I started the project in October 2013, I stopped in November when the weather got cold and then, this spring, people started messaging me saying, ‘when are you going to start taking pics again?’ I may try to take pics in the winter…but I definitely plan on being back on the streets again when the spring comes again.
I notice that you’ve been promoting a fundraiser for Children and the Earth on your Facebook timeline. Could you tell us a bit more about this particular cause and why you chose this specific charity?
There’s a story about HONY that you might find interesting. In 2012, the fashion company DKNY approached Brandon with an offer to buy some of his images for an advertising campaign. He refused their offer. Later, in Thailand, it was discovered that DKNY had used some of his images without his permission. Rather than sue them, which he certainly had a right to do, he asked them to donate $100,000 to his local YMCA. They apologized and donated $25,000. He then started an Indiegogo fundraiser and, in a matter of hours, raised the other $75,000 plus an additional $103,000 for his local YMCA. When my page reached 3,000 followers, earlier this fall, I thought that maybe the page now has a voice that people might be listening to…so I engaged my followers by asking them to submit nominees representing any local bona-fide charity in the area for a few days. We collected 18 nominees. At that point, I invited my followers to start voting, American Idol-style, for whom we should do a fundraiser in time for Christmas. As the days and weeks went by, the bottom nominees getting the least votes were eliminated until during the last 3 days of voting, Children and the Earth ended up being the winning nominee. Then we started the “Humans to the Rescue’ fundraiser…we have a donate link on the website humansofsaltlakecity.blogspot.com. It’s all done through PayPal so it’s totally secure. Unfortunately, we’ve only raised about $150…so I’m thinking that the voice I thought the page had maybe isn’t as strong yet as I thought it would be. The fundraiser technically ends sometime on the 22nd at which time, we will give the proceeds of the fundraiser in their entirety to Children and the Earth. They are an organization that helps terminally ill children and their families, kind of in the vein of the Make A Wish Foundation.
What is your purpose and goal with HOSLC?
I’d like to see HOSLC become as powerful for good as HONY…I’d like it to serve as proof that people can still learn from one another…that people, regardless of circumstance, are worthy of study, attention, affection, kindness, and consideration.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned as a result of your project?
I have found that every soul I have photographed has a certain majesty and a beauty. Sometimes, it’s not obvious but it’s there waiting to be touched and drawn out. I think people have more good to offer each other than they might be willing to admit and that maybe, talking about themselves in their stories to a stranger such as myself, might help to shed even more light on that proof and lead to good things.
If our readers take away one thing from you, what would you want it to be?
Look closely at one another…be open to lives that are different…believe that we can all be taught and that we can learn from each other in all kinds of ways both big and small…that’s the only way we’re going to survive.