Can I take your picture?”
A Penn student shields her camera from the flurries falling from the sky, waiting for a group of tourists to respond. Finally, one man nods his head, and the group assembles into a colorful array of winter jackets. The photographer asks if the group is ready, and one boy raises two fingers in a peace sign.
After snapping a picture, the photographer strikes up a conversation with the group: Where are they going? What do they think of Penn? How do they know each other? She asks for permission to put their photo and their story online and, after gaining approval, continues her walk up Locust.
This is the process behind the Facebook page, Humans of Upenn, which has garnered almost 1,400 Facebook likes since its inception on Jan. 21 .
The page is an online compilation of portraits featuring the people across Penn’s campus.
An international freshman College student, who requested to remain anonymous to preserve the photo- graphic authenticity of the page, decided to launch the page on a snowy day in January. She was inspired by the popular Facebook page, Humans of New York. Launched in 2010, HONY has collected over 6,000 portraits and 3.2 million Facebook “likes.” The site also spawned similar projects around the world. Another Facebook page, called Voices of Penn, follows a similar model, posting portraits and quotes of individuals across campus.
“I was bored out of my mind ... I was in my room, and I just looked at my camera and decided to go take pictures of people,” she said. “It’s not my idea. I can’t take credit for it.”
She follows no designated schedule, venturing out with a camera whenever she has a lull in her schoolwork. No particular type of person attracts her lens. Rather, she walks across campus searching for potential subjects ranging from Penn students and staff to tourists and Drexel students.
Although only a small group of friends knows she runs Humans of Upenn, the photographer has forged a unique community with her subjects. After she photographed another student carrying a back scrubber on Walnut Street, the two started discussing classes at Penn and became friends.
“There are interesting people everywhere. It was kind of a way to force myself to reach out and build connections with people,” she said.
In the future, she hopes to grow the project into a larger movement or club on campus, saying that the Facebook page could be updated more frequently with multiple people posting photos.
On College Green, the photographer beelines toward a woman and her dog, inquiring whether she can take a moment of their time. Noticing the camera, the woman responds, “You can’t take a picture of me, but you can take one of the dog.” The photographer snaps several pictures of the dog, while asking such questions as “What’s her name?” and “How old is she?” “I’m not sure, exactly,” the woman replies. “She’s a rescue dog.”
Two days later, Humans of Upenn features a new photograph: a brown and white dog, accompanied by the caption, “She was a rescue dog.”