Photo project explores human face of SFU

If a group of students approach you on campus, you may just be featured on their Humans of SFU page.

Don’t be alarmed. That group of students running around campus snapping photos is not the new paparazzi club; rather, four SFU undergraduates have taken it upon themselves to get to know their peers and gather tidbits of their daily lives using the Facebook group, Humans of SFU.

Inspired by the mega-popular Humans of New York (HONY) web blog and New York Times best-selling book, the Facebook-based photography project seeks to collect images of SFU and its community.

The Humans of SFU Facebook page has already garnered over 1,500 likes, and has received dozens of comments on each of its posted photos.

Already fans of HONY, page administrators Sukhi Birak, Stephanie Nguyen, and Ayesha Khaira — the fourth administrator chose not to have their name in the article — described their initial attempts at beginning a similar project here at SFU. Birak told The Peak, “When we first started, we were too scared to approach students, so we [spoke to] an older couple on campus. That was the same day we made the page.”

The team explained that working as a group of four makes the whole process slightly less daunting. Usually, two of the team members will approach the subject, ask for a photo, and if the individual agrees, begin engaging with them in a casual conversation. The photographs are accompanied by a caption which can range from a quirky observation to a heartfelt confession.

In most cases, the team begins an encounter with the classic inquiry, “So, what’s your major?” but they emphasize that their goal is to move the conversation beyond the surface to a deeper level. One student even opened up about his previous experience with cancer, taking them completely by surprise.

“When you see that person you would never know that they faced a battle,” Nguyen commented.

Already, the team said that they have been amazed at how willing some students are to share very personal anecdotes: “Sometimes, after we are walking away from someone, we have to compose ourselves because we are so excited to post it,” said Birak. “We wait for them to walk away before we start freaking out about how amazing that interview was.”

Even when they aren’t out taking pictures, the group members admit that they now see strangers differently. “Every moment is an opportunity. When people open up to you, you feel honoured to hear their story. They trust us and they trust the SFU community,” said Khaira.

The team also expressed their belief that the page will help to unify each of the SFU campuses. While students might never have taken a class at Harbour Centre, the Humans of SFU page can show them the kind of student life that exists there.

The team has been overwhelmed by the generosity of other SFU groups in supporting their venture, including the creators of the SFU Confessions Facebook page as well as the SFSS. “We still celebrate every little milestone. We love when people comment,” said Nguyen.

Khaira concluded, “Our whole point of the page is to build an SFU community and a spirit. SFU is unfortunately known as a school that doesn’t have a lot of spirit, so we hope that by having this page, we can ‘up’ the spirit of the school.”