Hu­mans of Sher­brooke sought on Saturday

Sherbrooke Record - - LOCAL NEWS - By Gor­don Lam­bie

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.

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