Brandon Stanton

Radio-Television-Film junior Preston McNabb, neurobiology senior Kolby Vidrine and Michael Tran, St. Augustine physical therapy graduate student, run the blog “Humans of Austin.”

Photo Credit: Ellyn Snider | Daily Texan Staff

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
candid photos.  

“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.”

Public relations sophomore Crysta Hernandez and advertising freshman Amy Tingle create Facebook page Humans of UT. They intend to increase the sense of community by telling stories of people on campus.

Photo Credit: Mengwen Cao | Daily Texan Staff

With cameras and questions on hand, public relations sophomore Crysta Hernandez and advertising freshman Amy Tingle are always ready to capture snippets of the lives of people on campus. The duo shares these snapshots and conversations with the public through Humans of UT. 

Less than a month ago, Hernandez and Tingle launched their page, Humans of UT, on Facebook. Since then, the page has reached more than 1,000 likes and continues to gain popularity daily. Like the original site created by Brandon Stanton, Humans of UT features photos of random people on campus and excerpts of conversations that Hernandez and Tingle have with them.     

Humans of UT derives from Humans of New York, a popular blog created by Stanton, a photographer, four years ago. He originally set out to document photos of 10,000 New Yorkers, but, along the way, he began collecting and telling their stories. His project turned from a simple blog to a New York Times best-selling book. 

“Humans of UT is certainly not an original idea on our part,” Hernandez said. “We’re just taking [Stanton’s] idea and making it relevant to UT.”

A love for Humans of New York is a main reason that Tingle agreed to join Hernandez in this project. 

“I think it’s a powerful idea to look at people and say, ‘You’re special, we’re a part of this community, and there’s something similar about you and me, and I want to find out what that is,’” Tingle said. 

Hernandez solidified her idea for Humans of UT when her creative problem solving-class required her to do a personal project that involved developing and solving a problem. She proposed that UT lacks a strong sense of community and, setting a goal of 200 likes, used Humans of UT as her solution.

“Amy is a freshman, and I’m a transfer student, so, last semester, we were both new to UT,” Hernandez said. “I’m really happy to be here, but I felt lonely and awkward and wanted some kind of connection.”

Hernandez contacted Tingle about her idea after meeting in a photography class. The two made extensive plans about how far their project would go. They hoped to talk to professors for advice and attempted to contact Brandon Stanton, himself, but months passed, and nothing went as planned.  

“Life got busy, and we said we’d meet in two weeks and then another week and then another until, finally, [Hernandez] said she was just going to put up the page and [that], if I could put up photos too, that would be great,” Tingle said. 

The night Hernandez returned from spring break, she pinned posters promoting the page around campus kiosks. That Monday, she launched Humans of UT with a couple of photos, and, by Tuesday night, the page had hit 500 likes. Hernandez and Tingle have made it a point not to widely share with others that they are the creators of Humans of UT. The gains in popularity have mainly come from people sharing the photos they appear in. 

When looking for a subject to photograph, the girls search for members of the campus community. Typically, they find students with a story to tell, but, on occasion, the people they photograph have been alumni visiting campus or people on the Drag.

“The people we usually take pictures of seem pretty enthusiastic,” Tingle said. “If they don’t know what Humans of New York is, I explain, and they seem pretty interested to be involved.”

In approaching people for photos, Hernandez and Tingle begin conversations with them and try asking questions similar to those asked by Stanton.

“We’re working on it. We’re trying to make everything have a really strong message that’s relevant to people of UT,” Hernandez said. 

Hernandez and Tingle have high hopes for Humans of UT and plan to make it a long-term project. They want to branch out onto other social media outlets, create a website and get more people involved with their project. 

“We just didn’t expect for it to take off so quickly,” Tingle said. “Other universities have had similar things happen and they’ve fallen through the cracks.”

Their current struggle is figuring out how to stay relevant throughout the summer. The duo hopes to stay true to their original message and keep Humans of UT until they graduate and can pass it on.

“Our mission statement is cheesy but true,” Hernandez said. “You pass by so many people everyday and don’t stop to think that they have a story, too.”