Behind every face is a story, and University of Mary Washington freshman Nancy Milroy is no exception. On Tuesday, Feb. 4, Milroy launched one of the most ambitious campus-wide projects to date: a visual census called “Humans of UMW.
Modeled after the popular photoblog “Humans of New York,” “Humans of UMW” features portraits of individuals accompanied by quotes. Every photo represents a unique persona, and, with it, a facet of UMW.
“It’s nice to see people in a light where they have something positive to say,” said Milroy. “Or they’re just being real or tender in that moment.”
Not unlike “Humans of New York” creator Brandon Stanton, Nancy Milroy admitted that she is no expert photographer, but with an iPhone in hand, Nancy can conduct her project swiftly and effectively.
“I catch them between classes, so I know they have somewhere to be,” Milroy said of her subjects. “It’ll take maybe 10 seconds to explain, and then 20 seconds to get a good picture and questions.”
Milroy approaches potential subjects with a steady composure and a smile. Far from the overly energized clipboardists known to roam Campus Walk, Milroy maintains an honest and genuine nature.
“I want to catch people off guard because it’s like a real moment. I don’t want them to have to think about it. Sometimes I’ll have people say ‘Can I get back to you?’ and I’m like ‘No. I want right now,’” said Milroy.
According to Milroy, she likes to create questions that tell a lot about the person she is interviewing.
“I think of what I would want someone to ask me. So if someone asks, ‘If you were a path, what would you lead to?’ I think it can be a physical place or a conceptual thing. I’ll get cool answers. Like someone was like ‘I’d lead to chaos.’ I’m like ‘Okay! That’s fine.’ And someone was like ‘I lead to a pyramid next to the railroad.’ ‘That’s nice! I haven’t been there, but I’ll go there now,’” said Milroy.
In the few weeks since the project’s launch, Milroy captured approximately 40 to 50 portraits. Moreover, the Facebook page for “Humans of UMW” has gained nearly 800 “likes” and continues to grow. Most compelling of all however, is the number of connections formed through the project.
As the census develops, so does the university’s sense of community. In one photo, two students posed with canvas paintings they dug up while “dumpster diving.” After the photo was posted to Facebook, Ellen Dreher, creator of the paintings, commented to say she was glad the dumpster-divers liked her work.
In another case, student Patrick Burnett, economics major, mentioned he was a pilot in his interview. This photo happened to catch the eye of another potential pilot, who was then able to contact Burnett through Nancy’s project. If “Humans of UMW” did not exist, these encounters might not have ever occurred.
Sophomore Roy King, international affairs, expressed high praise for the project.
“I think it’s a really cool thing. I like it better than ‘Humans of New York’ just because they’re people that I see every day. This is a small enough campus that I see strangers, but I just never pay them any mind. But then you see them have cool little ‘abouts’ and then you’re like ‘Wow, so that’s what you’re like!’ And it makes everyone seem more approachable,” said King.
As for the future of “Humans of UMW,” Milroy conveyed an interest in expanding the UMW network.
“I’d like to connect alumni. I think that’d be so cool because think of the thousands of people who have attended UMW—they want to visit the campus or know what students are doing nowadays, what they look like. I think it would be nice to see your old alma mater and say, ‘Oh, look at this nice young lady,’” said Milroy.
Ever optimistic, Milroy continues to strategize ways to progress with “Humans of UMW.”