HHS Senior Tells The People of Hanover’s Stories One Photo At A Time: A Q&A with Mindy Wu, creator of “Humans of Hanover”
Over the past few months, Mindy Wu (’18) has been an active storyteller. Some of her tools: her camera and a Facebook page she runs called “Humans of Hanover“. There, she provides a snapshot into the lives of many people across town. The Broadside recently interviewed Wu via e-mail and asked her some questions about her work.
BROADSIDE: Why did you start the Humans of Hanover page? What inspired you?
WU: Last spring, I started helping out with the Humans of Hanover High Facebook page, and I loved it. I loved getting to use my camera more and talking to people, so that was really how it all started. Then, I started thinking about doing a Senior Bridges project because it’s a great opportunity to do something you’re really passionate about, and I thought extending Humans of Hanover High to the whole town of Hanover would be really interesting. I really wanted to take advantage of Senior Bridges because it’s not often that you get to take on a self-designed project that you’re really interested in and have it count as a school credit. In the fall, I’d also interviewed my math professor for a Senior Writing Seminar profile essay, and I had a lot of fun with that.
BROADSIDE: Have you learned anything surprising since starting the page? What discoveries have you made?
WU: I think the thing that has struck me the most is how willing people are to talk about themselves if you just listen. Everyone has interesting stories, and sometimes it might take a while to hear one, but almost everyone I’ve talked to has taught me something valuable. The only exceptions are when people I stop on the street are sometimes in a hurry, but overall I was really surprised by how open people are. I’ve discovered a lot about how to conduct these spontaneous conversations, too. Before starting this project, I watched a lot of Brandon Stanton’s videos and Ted Talks on his Humans of New York process, and I’ve learned a lot about how to evoke more interesting conversations naturally. For example, I try to start with a general question of the week, such as “Do you believe in fate?” and if I hear something that could lead to a more specific experience they’ve had, I’ll ask about that and just try to keep the conversation going.
BROADSIDE: Which people’s stories stand out most to you?
WU: One thing that I thought was really cool was during the week of Valentine’s week, when my themed question was “How do you define love?” I met this one man who revealed that he was expecting his first child in five days, and I just loved that coincidence. It’s little things like that that have made my project so enjoyable. Or when I find a mutual connection with someone—I was talking to two Dartmouth graduate students in the HOP one day, and I found out that one of them (I didn’t end actually post a photo of her) was roommates with the house supervisor of a summer program I did last summer. They are both graduate students at Dartmouth together.
Besides my photos of the day, which are the spontaneous conversations I have with random people I find in Hanover, I also seek out specific people to do weekly interviews with. Those are the longer, sit-down interviews, and one of my favorites so far has been with a woman named Marie Fourcaut. She was born in Algeria and grew up in France, studying to become a dancer. She traveled with dance companies for a long time when she was younger, and now she leads modern dance classes in the Alumni Gym. I actually went to one of her classes after I interviewed her, to take photos. I loved talking to her because of the way she seemed to lead her life involving human relationships—from her childhood memories with her siblings in Algeria to her family in Hanover now. She just really embodied the goal of my project, which is to meet people and form these connections in my last year of high school. She also embodied a wonderful outlook on life, in the quote that goes along with the photo I attached below. I just love this quote:
“I performed for eight years with a woman named Martha Clarke. I moved from Paris to Washington, Connecticut with my first husband to work with this woman. We were able to travel places wherever I dreamed of. Jerusalem, Tokyo, Madrid. Then something stopped. I was not chosen for the next project, and I was like, ‘Who am I if I don’t perform?’ I suddenly got this reality—I was stuck in Connecticut with no prospect of work. My son was maybe eight years old. I became a chauffeur, I was a waitress. I’ve never done that before, all those other jobs that kids do nowadays. I was thirty-three years old and I thought my life was ending. In those moments I was devastated. I cried when I was a waitress. I thought, ‘I cannot do this.’ And yet, I learned something valuable. It’s that I can survive. I’m a survivor. I can do this. It changed my way of being in this world. You cannot be a dancer forever. Who are you beside your specialty? You are still a person.”