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Features Project reveals city’s identities

Project reveals city’s identities

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“What was your proudest moment?” “I once tracked a wild water buffalo through the Masai Mara in Kenya. I was staying with some Masai tribesmen, and they wanted to take me hunting. They didn’t actually want to kill anything, but give me the experience of hunting, so we went out and we followed some tracks and we tracked them through the valley and found them next to the water.” -Eli Baylis Lenore Seal/Courtesy Photo
“What was your proudest moment?”
“I once tracked a wild water buffalo through the Masai Mara in Kenya. I was staying with some Masai tribesmen, and they wanted to take me hunting. They didn’t actually want to kill anything, but give me the experience of hunting, so we went out and we followed some tracks and we tracked them through the valley and found them next to the water.”
-Eli Baylis
Lenore Seal/Courtesy Photo

Imagine a project that makes your city seem a little smaller, something that helps you know the people around you more intimately. Imagine that this project is happening in Hattiesburg, a city of nearly 50,000 people, according to the United States Census Bureau. Lenore Seal imagined it, and now, the Facebook page Humans of Hattiesburg is showing off some of these fascinating Hub City residents online.

Inspired by Humans of New York, a photography project begun by Brandon Stanton in 2010, Humans of Hattiesburg features portraits of people whom Seal finds around Hattiesburg.

Accompanying the picture is a caption which is meant to give insight into that person’s life. The caption is often an answer to questions such as “What is your biggest regret?” or “What is your happiest moment?” Answers range from the sentimental to the wacky and entertaining, yet all are meant to reveal something special about that person.

Boasting 837 followers since the first picture was posted on March 11, Humans of Hattiesburg has garnered a large following in a short amount of time. Seal started Humans of Hattiesburg following her move to Hattiesburg from New Orleans. Seal changed cities after a Vespa accident, and during this period, Seal spent a large amount of time perusing photography sub-Reddit image boards. She was drawn to Humans of New York and wanted to emulate it in Hattiesburg.

For Seal, who studied photojournalism at The University of Southern Mississippi, walking up to strangers and asking for a photo and interview is not intimidating. Seal finds most people she approaches are willing to speak up, but she is careful to make the people she talks to comfortable.

“The thing about Hattiesburg that’s difficult is that we don’t have a place like New York or New Orleans where people congregate,” Seal said. She pays attention to where people do gather, such as at community events like Live at Five or outside restaurants and will stop and talk to them.

Projects such as Humans of Hattiesburg are able to get a special insight into the pulse of the city, and Seal, through her conversations with strangers, has noticed positive changes happening in Hattiesburg.
“People are more interested in their community now, and I feel like Humans of Hattiesburg is helping facilitate that, transitioning into a more community-based city,” Seal said. She believes Hattiesburg is not as large as New York or New Orleans, and so it has the potential to make the project more meaningful.

“In Hattiesburg, unlike a larger city, it’s a small place,” Seal said. “We have the opportunity to be closer.”

The project is continuing to draw interest. Dylan Williams, a senior history major, was previously unaware of the existence of Humans of Hattiesburg, but finds the idea intriguing. “I think it’s very interesting, an interesting concept. I would probably agree to do it if asked,” Williams said.

The brilliance of photography blogs such as Humans of Hattiesburg is the insight they offer. Not only do the answers provided by participants give glimpses into the individual’s life, but they speak to the shared human experience, such as fears, embarrassment and joy. Seal plans on continuing her project as long as she remains in Hattiesburg which is great news to people like Williams, who said, “I hope it keeps on going.”

Mary Beth Wolverton
Mary Beth is a senior at The University of Southern Mississippi studying English and history. She is involved in CSA, Greek life, the Southern Miss Speech and Debate Team, USM Honors College, and studied abroad during summer 2014.

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