The secret lives of strangers

Regine Cabato (The Philippine Star) - January 31, 2014 - 12:00am

Students from Ateneo and U.P. have taken on the spirit of Humans of New York’s T.M.I. confessionals and applied them to a college setting, proving that there’s strength in numbers.

MANILA, Philippines - Sonder, according the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, is “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own… in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background.”

“Everyone seems to be a filler in corridors, classrooms, hallways, cafeterias… With Ateneans, ang daming naglalakad diyan,” Anjo Silvoza, the Economics senior behind Humans of Ateneo, gestures down Red Brick Road, a main pathway between buildings at the Ateneo de Manila University. “Kahit anong mangyayari, hindi sila mag-uusap… There is no person to the human you’re seeing.”

Silvoza’s photo blog, humansofateneo.tumblr.com, is modeled after Humans of New York. The sensational HONY, a project by photographer Brandon Stanton, has grown to produce a bestselling book and a worldwide following. A ‘Humans of’ series followed, sprouting in India, Paris, and Tehran among other places. The blogs exhibit photos of random passersby, captioned with quotes from quick interviews.

Most recently, it’s taken local universities. Silvoza’s project hit the Internet on January 7, followed closely by Humans of Diliman, humansofdiliman.tumblr.com, ten days later.

Behind the lens

“I’m really a shy guy,” Silvoza confesses, who says that he usually goes around with his camera looking for people who seem like they’re not busy. “I just tell the person about my project… I’ll say (that) I want to get to know people’s stories behind the faces.”

While Silvoza’s is a solo project, the administrators behind Humans of Diliman are a set of applicants for the UP Communication Research Society.

“We needed a good project with a communication research aspect for our batch (application),” explains Marlina Carlos, batch applicant head. “Diliman is very diverse when it comes to the members of the community… we really wanted to capture that.”

Apart from students, the site has featured personnel, joggers, and even the renowned Zorro. Carlos adds that Diliman also houses villages, so residents get featured on the page.

Although Ateneo has a smaller population, Silvoza says it is still diverse. He adds that there’s a “stigma” attached to Ateneans, a stereotype — but their answers could surprise.

“I don’t ask (the subjects) to pose,” he explains. “I really studied what Humans of New York did, and the main thing that makes (it) stand out is it’s raw. It captures raw emotions, raw feelings, raw everything… I just want it to be raw.”

The approach is not too different from Humans of Diliman. “We don’t look for someone who looks (a certain way),” says Carlos. “We just approach random people. We really wanted to maintain that random aspect, so it’s very reflective, representative of the community.”

Campus stroll

At UP Diliman, we set to shoot around the Academic Oval with Bettina Someros, Joline Guevarra, Jamie Loristo, and photographer Oriel Nazareno. Someros tells me that it’s their favorite spot, if they aren’t passing by the colleges.

Sure enough, we bump into actress Candy Pangilinan, who’s jogging with her son. We run into another mother and son pair, picnicking at Sunken Garden.

Mary Grace Espinosa says she’s heard of Humans of Diliman already, laughing. “This is our bonding time,” she tells the team in Filipino, adding that they always watch the Frisbee players who practice in the area. “So I bought him a Frisbee, because he wanted to be like them.”

Her son, Dean, wants to be a lot of things — depending on what he’s watching. “Lately, he wanted to be a secret agent,” she chuckles. “(When he was) two years old, we were amused because he wanted to be mayor, but only of Marikina.”

In Ateneo, a student tells Silvoza that he believes he is overcommitted. It is interesting, listening to people open up to someone they don’t know. And in some ways, it must be relieving.

“My personal favorite (story) is the guard of (Manuel V. Pangilinan Building),” Silvoza shares. “After doing the interview, I found out na he came from (a) sobrang lalim na past, sobrang bigat na history… People wouldn’t really look to learn a life lesson from a security guard… They’d look to teachers, they’d look to professors. People wouldn’t look to the common ordinary man for a piece of advice about life.”

Don’t be a stranger

“The biggest question for me is—I’m graduating in two months,” says Silvoza, adding he’s not sure how to continue the blog. He shrugs. “I’m not really a future guy anyway. So in my head, I’ll shoot as many people as I can while I’m here… until it lasts.”

Humans of Diliman, on the other hand, will be up and running for a while, after hitting more than thousand likes in its first week. “It feels really good to be able to put their story (up), for the world to see, for everyone to see,” says Carlos.

In the end, both ends say, people are three-dimensional. They’re characters.

“I would love to get to know other people,” says Silvoza. “I wanna know what you can teach me, what I can learn from you.”

He wants, he says, to take out “strange in stranger.”


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