Deep secrets and personal life experiences are not stories people are usually willing to share with a stranger on the street, but Brandon Stanton’s ability to coax confessions from strangers is what led to the viral success of his photo blog, “Humans of New York.” Three friends in Austin are now following suit.
The idea of getting strangers to open up inspired the founders of “Humans of Austin” to start their own photo blog. In their first month, the project’s founders — Michael Tran, University of St. Augustine physical therapy graduate student, UT neurobiology senior Kolby Vidrine and UT radio-television-film junior Preston McNabb — interviewed and photographed more than 50 people whom they believe represent a “visual anthropology of Austin.”
“We want to be representative of the whole city,” Vidrine said. “We want to bring a real connection to people and find a story within each person we talk to and photograph. Everyone who reads it should be able to find something about it that they can identify with.”
Although Humans of Austin may be similar in style to Humans of New York, the trio is determined to set its blog apart. While Humans of New York centers around often-emotional anecdotes, the founders of Humans of Austin want their content to be more uplifting and inspiring.
“New York is already an established city, and Austin is still growing,” Vidrine said. “There’s a certain weirdness here — an openness between people who can be anyone they want to be. There’s no box they have to fit into.”
Each of the founders brings varying personal experiences and passions to the project. Tran said he uses his experience as a psychology undergraduate to understand his subjects better. He prefers having subjects take posed shots with captions that elicit emotional responses. McNabb said he is partial to
“I even tell my family to make each other laugh when I take their pictures because I want to capture a genuine connection — the look on someone’s face when they share something they might have never shared before,” McNabb said.
Getting strangers to feel comfortable is important to Humans of Austin, Tran said. By asking simple questions — Who are you? Why are you here? What makes you happy? — the photographers encourage the subjects to open up. Once the conversation starts, it is easier for the photographer to gain insight.
“We want the questions to feel natural,” Tran said. “The goal is to get [each person] to say something they have not before, and the moment you ask the right question, you begin to see into their lives. The hard questions are the simple ones. They elicit deeper feelings, and that’s what we’re trying to get out.”
By connecting their viewers to the others in their community, the Humans of Austin bloggers hope to reestablish human connections they believe society is losing as a result of modern technology.
“This project has shown me how Austin is a changing entity,” Tran said. “I have friends who grew up here who tell me how different it was just 10 years ago, and I want to be part of documenting that change. I want to show us as humans evolving with this city.”