A casually dressed girl carrying a professional camera walks across campus to her next class. Her eyes sift through the people she passes as she looks for the right person to approach: someone who might be willing to share their story, and let her take their picture, someone who wouldn’t mind appearing on her Facebook photo blog.

This girl, Amelia Engel, a senior Spanish and Linguistics double major, is the photographer behind the “Humans of the U of R” (HOUR) Facebook page.

Engel started her project last winter, inspired by a Facebook page created by American photographer and blogger Brandon Stanton. Stanton’s “Humans of New York” (HONY) page has garnered national recognition for his distinct photography and memorable captions that promote Stanton’s mission: “New York City, one story at a time.”

His book – which shares the same name as his page – came out in 2013 and quickly gained bestseller status. On Feb. 27, he will be visiting UR to  talk about his work.

“I like that he’s not in it for the money,” Engel said in an interview. “HONY isn’t about him – it’s about the people, and it’s about giving them a voice.”

A long-time fan of photography, Engel began taking pictures in 2008, when she got her first dSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera in preparation for a semester abroad in Chile.

“At first, I just wanted to take pictures of the landscapes,” she said. “Mountains, beaches, monuments – you know, typical tourist things.” She soon realized, however, that this sort of photography didn’t satisfy her. “The pictures didn’t make me think, and they didn’t mean anything to me,” she said. The scenery was beautiful, but it was enough to see it with my own eyes and remember it that way.”

“I don’t remember when I started taking pictures of people,” she continued after a pause, “but it happened very naturally. I have always found people interesting, not only to look at, but also to talk to; and that interest, combined with my love for photography, was a great recipe for a project like HOUR.”

Engel believes that she has always liked talking to strangers, because she is often “surprised and touched by what they share.” She has heard many emotional and interesting stories, and she believes that she has learned a lot from the people she has photographed. “I feel that we are so quick to judge people based on what we see, and we don’t bother to give them another thought. Everyone deserves to be known if they want to be.”

According to Engel, we lose a lot by not talking to those around us. She sees this problem even here at UR, and decided to start HOUR to address the issue. “There are so many of us here, but most of us don’t know each other,” she said. Most students don’t even know the people they go to class with.

After our interview, I joined Engel as she searched for people to photograph and interview for HOUR. We started by looking around The Pit, but the students we approached all declined.

Engel usually likes to approach people who jump out at her for whatever reason, maybe their clothing or a certain expression on their face. Most importantly, she never picks people that are in a rush or seem to be concentrating on something. But even when she follows this rule, rejection is common.

“I sometimes feel sad that people don’t like to share their stories with strangers, but it is understandable,” she said. “People are not used to it.” She paused. “I sometimes think about how I would react if someone approached me like this.”

But even when she struggles to find willing subjects, Engel keeps in mind the importance of her work, how it might really mean something to the people she photographs and the people who see the photographs. After all, she’s walking in Stanton’s footsteps, always keeping in mind that it’s about the people, not her.

Amelia was finally able to get the approval from a student walking past ITS. After the photo shoot, I asked the student, sophomore Brigid Hogan, what she thought about her experience. “[It was] exciting, but a little bit weird,” she answered. “I really like the idea of HONY and I’m excited to see it on a small scale.”

“I love hearing about happy moments because so much of the news we hear these days is depressing, revolving around sickness, death, poverty, and terrorism,” Engel said. “Positivity, even if it’s small, can make a big difference.”

Later on, I spoke to Engel’s friend, senior Morgan Kennedy, who’s quite familiar with Engel’s project. “I think HOUR is an awesome local spin-off of Humans of New York,” she said. “It celebrates the diversification of our university home and helps us to see one another differently and feel more connected.”

While on some days Engel is able to take lots of photos, other days are full of rejection. However, she stays positive and has decided to “let it go where it goes.” One thing that’s for sure is that she’s not giving up. So if you’re approached by a tall, blonde girl with a camera, consider the value of sharing your story. I doubt you’ll regret it.

Liu is a member of the class of 2016.



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