Humans of Sherbrooke sought on Saturday
Humains de Sherbrooke, the local photography project inspired by photographer Brandon Stanton’s “Humans of New York” photo blog, is hosting a public gathering at Estrie Aide on January 12 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. with the aim of building up a bank of stories to draw from. Like Stanton’s now famous project, the Sherbrooke initiative shares “person on the street” style portraits alongside brief quotes from the person in the photo.
“It is a good way of bringing people together,” said Vanessa Cournoyer-cyr, a co-founder of the Sherbrooke group and one of the writers and editors of the project. “We are a small city here and it sometimes gives one the impression that they know everyone. This is a good reminder that we don’t always know a stranger’s story or background.”
Humains de Sherbrooke started in October of 2017 with the goal of publishing one portrait a week. According to Cournoyer-cyr, the project has run about 65 or 70 pictures on its Facebook page to date.
“We start from the idea that everyone has a story to tell, and that all stories are worth telling,” the writer said. “There are 160,000 people in Sherbrooke, so there could be 160,000 stories to tell.”
Run entirely by volunteers, Humains de Sherbrooke operates in a few different ways. Some photos and stories, Cournoyer-cyr explained, are shared by genuine run-ins on the street, in cafés, or other public places. In other cases, people reach out saying that they want to share a story, in which case a writer and photograpther team will meet up with them.
“Obviously in these cases it is different because people have already thought about what they want to say,” the writer said, noting that even though the experience is more constructed, the end result is still worth sharing.
It is in the spirit of this second format that the weekend event will take place, with members of the public invited to come and speak with representatives of the group to share whatever they might have to say.
Pierre Vigneau, one of several photographers engaged with the project, told The Record that inviting people in to share takes the project in a slightly different direction than when the volunteers just find people on the street, but he pointed out that since the project is happening on a volunteer basis it can be hard to meet the weekly deadline without adapting the work to their timetable.
Although one might think that inviting the public would speed up a process that otherwise depends on chance encounters, the photographer pointed out that people who come planning to tell a story take more time to do so. Despite that trade-off, however, Vigneau said that the group’s first try at this kind of public forum last June was successful enough that they see value in doing it again.
“What we do is storytelling” Vigneau said, explaining that while the writers attempt to capture people’s words in a compelling way, the job of the photographers is to try to complement that story and support the text with an image. “If what someone says is sad, we don’t want a smiling portrait,” he added, noting that the photographer sits in on the interview and then takes the photo on the spot. Things are not staged or done after the fact, but captured in the moment as much as possible which, to Vingneau, is a big part of the appeal.
Working in the context of Estrie Aide, Vigneau said that there are enough different “environments” in the secondhand store that one can vary backgrounds pretty well without too much duplication.
Whereas the project draws inspiration from “Humans of New York,” Cournoyer-cyr made a distinction between the two projects in that Humains de Sherbrooke tries to keep things positive.
“There is a lot of darkness and cynisim online and in social media,” she said, explaining that although the project does not shy away from sad stories, they work hard to try to end each text on a hopeful note.
“Often peoples first reflex is to say they have no story, but before long they turn that around,” she said, underlining the fact that one of the things that is most significant to her about the project is the way that things that might seem mundane or significant to the teller resonate in unexpected ways with strangers when shared online. “It is hard to know who each story will touch and how,” she continued.
Humains de Sherbrooke’s posts can be found on their facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pg/humainsdesherbrooke although the group just recently opened an instagram account, and have eventual plans for their own website.
Humains de Sherbrooke, like its inspiration - Humans of New York, pairs portraits of people on the street with a small piece of their personal story.