Lauren Tracey and Rachel Carey spoke to the creators of Irish website ‘Humans of Ireland’ to ask about their experiences cataloging humans of Ireland, generic one picture and story at a time.
1. What inspired you to create Humans of Ireland?
Lee: I’ve always been had an interest in street photography and wanted to start some sort of street photography blog. I was toying with a few different ideas and been such a fan of HONY.
I knew Killian for a few years as we’ve worked creatively on a number of projects, I put the idea to him about starting our own Humans of Ireland page, within the week we had set up the page and began to document our first humans.
2. How long have you been running HOI?
Killian & Lee: We posted our first HOI picture/story on the 24th of March this year.
3. Are Irish people particularly responsive to the concept of Humans of Ireland?
Lee: So far most people have responded really well to the concept. When we were first discussing the idea of setting up HOI it was one of my concerns, I was worried if people would be prepared to talk to us but as soon as we started approaching people and taking their portrait we were surprised how open they actually were to chatting to us.
4. What post/photo has affected you the most during your time running HOI?
Lee: That’s a really tough question as I’ve been affected by a lot of posts. But I think the one that stands out the most has to be the image/story of the homeless man in UCD. After asking him for a photo and him not verbally responding I watched him for a few minutes and was genuinely concerned for his well being. In the post I said I thought he might have a mental illness which some people didn’t like but there was some information I left out of the post. After asking a few people around the campus if he about him, it was amazing to hear how much support and care he got from the students and staff in UCD. I’d [gone] from feeling really sad about the whole situation to being inspired by the humanity people had shown to this man. Then once the image was posted online and it went viral it was amazing to hear other people experiences/stories about this man.
Again, like Lee said, so many of our featured humans affect us, some stories are funny, some are sad but what’s most important is that all of them are real. Real people going through real life struggles.
It’s quite an incredible experience when somebody opens up to you after only meeting you moments before.
I always have my camera close by, one day on the way to another job I spotted a guy sitting on the pavement under a billboard having a cigarette. It’s hard to explain it, but quite often you get a vibe from somebody and that’s what we follow when approaching strangers, I suppose you could describe it as a gut feeling. I approached this guy, who, as it turns out was on a break from the coffee shop he worked in and asked if I could take his portrait. I did and then joined him on the ground to explain the concept behind ‘humans’ before asking him a question. I asked him about a struggle he was currently facing. Before answering he said that I could continue to take pictures as he answered, I couldn’t have ever imagined what was about to happen. He had recently broken up with his girlfriend and he told me all about it, he began to well up and within minutes his heart was wide open. It was heart breaking to hear his story and when asked if it was strange photographing him as he cried people are often surprised to hear that it felt like the most natural thing in the world. As a street photographer, I set out to capture life and this was real life, real pain, true heart ache and it’s rarely captured in such a pure form. It’s recreated time and time again on screen; in movies but rarely do we get to capture such raw emotion. It was sort of beautiful, I felt honoured to that he allowed me to capture that moment, that feeling, that emotion.
5. You take a lot of photos here in UCD, what is it about the campus, and its occupant, that appeals to you so much?
Lee: I actually live quite close to UCD so love going for strolls over there with my camera. It’s such a melting pot of people from all over the country/world and from all walks of life so it’s a great place to shoot for HOI.
6. Both yourself and Killian run HOI, we’re sure it’s a lot of work, how do you share out the workload? Is it a full time commitment?
Killian &Lee: There is a lot of work that goes into it alright. We both have other jobs that take priority so it’s not a full time commitment. The most time consuming part is taking the pictures and getting peoples stories. You could easily spent two or three hours walking around a town and only capture 2 maybe 3 people, you need a lot of patience. The rest of the work is in maintaining our social media pages and website which we can usually do from our phones whenever we have a minute. We share the work load on facebook. Killian mainly looks after the Instagram. Lee’s also a web designer so he looks after the website.
7. Are the majority of your photographs taken in Dublin, or from all around the country?
Lee: We’re both based in Dublin so the majority of our shots will come from in Dublin, but we both travel around the country a fair bit with our other jobs and will always take time out to shoot for HOI anytime we’re travelling.
8. Do you find response to the page differs from county to county/ or person to person?
Lee: I don’t find that it differs that much at all from county to county. I suppose it’d be a little more common to be stopped in the street by a photographer in Dublin as opposed to a small town in Longford but once people realize that we’re not looking to sell them anything, they’re usually open for a chat.
As for person to person, we do find it more difficult for women to agree to have their photo taken.
Killian: More often than not women between the ages of 40-60 will refuse to have their portrait taken as they don’t have their hair done or feel like they’re not dressed appropriately, it’s gas, we’re not shooting for Vogue and I’ve tried to explain that the whole idea is to catch people in their everyday life but generally to no avail.
Lee: I think the main difference we find is peoples age, younger people are usually keen to have their photo taken and be featured on the blog as they’ve heard of our blog or HONY. Older people would ask a lot more questions and want to know what it’s about before agreeing, also if it’s someone that doesn’t use the internet and doesn’t understand social media they’d be a bit more cautious. I’ll always take the time to fully explain what we’re about and what the images are used for and then generally people agree to have their image taken.
9. How do you deal with the negativity you must occasionally get, either online or in person?
Lee: I’ve never gotten any negativity in person. I have gotten it on some of my images alright. At first I would focus on the one negative comment out of one hundred that I’ve gotten on a certain image, but now it doesn’t bother me. Most of the time it’s some keyboard warrior or someone looking for an argument, in which case I’d just delete their comment and if they continuously post negative/abusive comments they get banned. But if someone has a genuine point to make I usually let people debate about it amongst themselves and would rarely get involved.
Killian: What I find lovely about our facebook friends on the HOI page is the amount of support that is shown in the comments. Especially after someone is nice enough to share their story with us, It’s so nice to see that on a platform which is so often used to troll and abuse that in the midst of it there we are, a little beacon of positivity.
10. Do you photograph on set days or do you just walk and snap?
Lee: I don’t have set days at all, whenever I get a chance I try get out. But I do have my camera in the car all the time and if I have a bit of spare time to kill I’d have a walk about. Sometimes if I’m driving and I see someone that interests me I’d drive ahead of them a bit and stroll back ask them.
Killian: Ditto, as we both work full time jobs we have to shoot for ‘humans’ whenever and wherever we get a chance. Ideally I’d love to be able to spend my entire day going around the country talking to people, hearing their stories and taking their portraits but unfortunately my landlord doesn’t accept photographs as payment.
11. Have you ever thought to commercialize the page in the way HONY has done?
Lee: We would like to put a ‘Humans of Ireland’ book together at some stage alright. But we wouldn’t want to commercialize our page too much as we’d like to keep it all about the humans we photograph and their stories.
Killian: At this stage we’ve been approached by a number of companies and different people looking to capitalize on our 42,000 facebook fans but that’s not what it’s about for us. The whole idea is to tell people’s stories and create a snapshot of life in Ireland. Like Lee said, eventually we’d love a coffee table book but money doesn’t drive us.
To quote the photographer Bill Cunningham, “If you don’t take their money, they can’t tell you what to do.”
12. Where to you see yourselves and HOI this time next year? Do you plan to keep going for as long as possible?
Lee: I hope to we have built a following of over 500k by this time next year on our Facebook page. Plus maybe have started our book. As long as I’m enjoying it I’ll keep taking pictures, it’s such a rewarding feeling chatting to strangers and them sharing their stories with you I can’t see myself getting tired of it anytime soon.
Killian: I couldn’t have said it better myself, I always love to see Lee’s ambition with our facebook page. I was delighted when we made it to 1k meanwhile; Lee was already aiming for 100k.
13. 42,000 likes is an incredible amount, to what do you credit your success?
Lee: I think the main reason for its success is that people in general are very inquisitive and our pictures give people an insight into the life of the people we photograph. Also there are about 70 million people worldwide that consider themselves to be Irish. We see a lot of our audience is from outside Ireland which I reckon gives them a taste of home that they miss while living abroad.
For my Humans of Ireland, visit www.humansofireland.ie