Interview with Humans of Queen Mary

1 April, 2014|journalism

As seen in Cub 551.

What do two biochemistry students, a geographer, a History student, a History & English student and a pharmaceutical chemist all have in common? This may sound like a bad joke, but they all make up the mysterious, anonymous team behind the Humans of Queen Mary Facebook page. Brought together by an interest in the Humans of New York phenomena and an interest in the Queen Mary community, the team has been taking photos of students, holding conversations with them, then uploading the photo and a snippet of their story to facebook. Hannah Ballard from Cub went to meet the mystery group and ask them a few questions, and got photographed for the project too.

Untitled design (11)

CUB: So first up, why do you want to be kept anonymous?

Ta: First of all, in terms of approaching people I think it’s kind of less interesting if people know who you are as you walk up to them and know what to expect.
S: We were also inspired by Humans of New York. One of the rules of HONY is that you can’t ask to be photographed, you have to be approached, so we said that we wanted to keep it uh…
Z: Organic?
S: Yeah, organic.
Ti: I was alright to not being anonymous. But being totally anonymous could be a bit dodgy.
Ta: It’s got its advantages and disadvantages.

CUB: And what initially inspired you to set up the page?

Ta: Overall I think the reason that we all wanted to do it is because QM is quite different to other London universities, as it’s a campus so you get more of a community feel. We don’t know everyone, so it’s just building on that sense of community we already have.
S: Yeah I agree, I mean the strangers that go past you every day, they are all humans, they all have ambitions, they all have worries or whatever, and just by taking a photograph and having a brief conversation, we can maybe, you know, shed some light on that.
Z: We are all united in one goal, which is education, and yet we differ so much. There’s something beautiful about how you pass so many people in one day and you spend the entire time thinking about what you’re going to do, and where you’re going in life, and sometimes you glance over at someone and they’re sitting there thinking almost as deeply as you are.
Ta: Also, there’s something that strikes with people, like when you find out you share something, but you can’t tell much just by looking at someone. It’s always fascinating just to think like, about what people have done, what they’re going through; you just don’t know.
Ti: People are like books; everyone has a story, about what has happened to them. You look at people and want to read them. I’m an empathetic person, and interested in other people, but I’m not confident enough to always approach people. This venture is an effort to increase my confidence and to get to know people and understand their stories.

CUB: What are you hoping to achieve with this project?

Z: I don’t think we set out with like, a particular goal in mind, like a certain milestone. I just thought it’d be amazing to share people’s stories and different insights into people’s thinking and beliefs.
S: I think the main question people always ask is “Why am I doing this?” I think if you have to ask that question then it’s clearly not worth your time. I didn’t have to ask myself that, I thought it would be fun and fulfilling, and I thought it might teach me something.
Ti: Well I’m quite interested in people’s stories; I like to get to know people, and thought this was a great way to do that.
Ta: I agree with Ti but also, it’s all about seeing people as humans rather than like a student, or a statistic. When you look at their stories and stuff, the more you realise you have in common with people.

CUB: How has the student response been, have you had any challenges? And has anyone said no?

Z: Yeah, well when you set out to do something like this, you’re going to be faced with a lot of ‘No’s.
S: We spoke to bin men and they would not stop for a minute to speak with us, but on the same day we ran into Ricardo. We asked him what’s been on his mind lately and he said ‘Oh I’m rewriting my first novel’ and I was like, wow. What luck. But we had to run into a few ‘No’s before we could get this.
Ta: Yeah that’s the thing, not giving up
Ti: Once, we were trying to get photos, and I had my camera around my neck. We were going up to people like, “hey, do you have a minute,” and they’re like nope nope nope. I think people make assumptions about the camera.
S: I think people can sometimes be a bit taken aback because this is quite a new thing.
Ta: But all the people we’ve photographed have been so positive about the project, no-one’s been negative about it, well, to my face.
Ti: My biggest challenge is ‘approach anxiety,’ I just get quite nervous like going up to people.

CUB: How do you select people to photograph?

Ta: I think we all have different approaches…
Ti: Generally, they have to look approachable, not busy and something about them has to catch my eye; like an interesting style or they’re doing something interesting and I want to ask them about it.
Z: It has to be someone you think you can hold a conversation with; if you can’t hold a conversation then you most likely won’t be able to get a very good quote out of them.
Ta: You have to connect.
S: I approach people I want to photograph. I want someone who’s looking down, who’s mesmerised with something, someone who looks busy. Probably a bad time to ask someone for their time as clearly they don’t have any to give.

CUB: Who has been your favourite person to photograph so far?

Ti: I don’t want to show favouritism…
Z: It’s like  choosing your favourite child!
Ta: Well I’m going to say Kim, because he was the first ‘human.’
S: By doing this I’ve actually cemented a lot of friendships and I’m glad I’ve met these people.

CUB: Would you personally want to photographed?

General agreement
: But I’d find it difficult to say something that sounds insightful and inspiring.
Ti: It doesn’t have to be inspiring.
S: It depends the question you ask.
Ti: I’d totally be cool with it, that’s one of the reasons I’m doing it.
Ta: I’d worry about saying something you don’t want to be shared with a lot of people.

CUB: What quote would you give then?

Ti: We don’t ask for a quote, we have a conversation and just take a snippet.
Ta: And we always check it’s okay to put online.
Z: Yeah, sometimes it can be a personal, intimate experience, when you open up to someone and you share something. And I think that’s what’s so amazing; the ability to open up and share is a very human thing to do.


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  1. Pingback: Journalism – a hannah in the works

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