The beauty of photography is in its ability to capture a singular moment in time. When looking into a photograph, we tend to forget that this is not an image taken by camera, rather it’s a moment in a human’s life captured forever. The essence of a person emerges in the slightest raise of the eyebrow, timid smile, or tilt of the head. I awe at how my camera and I can reveal the most profound aspects of the human spirit through portraiture. Through this post, I will introduce you to some of the Humans of Emory. You may know them, you may not, but they all hold a similar view on our lives here at school.
I began my journey at the poster sale held on the Freshman quad this past Monday. The sun was shining bright, the air was crisp, and the energy was positive; Everybody seemed to be in a good mood. While flipping through posters, I approached my first subject calmly and began introducing myself. With camera in hand, the second year student, Timothy, was a bit apprehensive at first. To have him open up, I asked him to envision his happy place – any place that makes him feel safe, comforted – at home.
“Does it have to be a real place?” He asked.
“It can be whatever you want it to be,” I said, curious as to what he would reveal.
“Well, then, not a place in the United States or anything, but probably a figurative place. From one of my stories. I write fictional stories and create all of these different worlds and locations. I would like to be in one of those places I’ve made up… so, yeah, I guess in my head,” he disclosed.
Timothy exuded a general happiness while describing what he does here at Emory, which has shown me that he can embrace his creativity, achieve his goals, and feel confident while doing so. When describing his true talent, it was clear to me that he is intrinsically motivated to continue his writing.
When I asked Timothy about his favorite aspect of Emory, he seemed more at ease and comfortable, and opened up on how campus makes him feel: “I love Emory for its opportunity and ground for growth. You come to Atlanta and there’s endless possibilities. You can do anything. There are so many cool things to be a part of, and I find that really fascinating.”
I was inspired by his words and asked to photograph him. He did not mind, and was glad to be a part of my series.
As students nearby finished swiping their Dooley cards to purchase their new posters of “That 70s Show,” I was greeted by my new friend Trent.
He tapped my shoulder and muttered, “Woah, that’s a really fresh camera. What are you taking pictures of?” I felt flattered and began to explain my motives. I asked if I could take his photograph, while he thought of his happy place. He grinned and agreed; In fact, he could not stop his infectious smile until I asked what he was pondering about.
“Lesotho,” he proclaimed.
“What is Lesotho? Is it a place?” I was fascinated.
“I’m from South Africa, and I recently visited this land-locked country, called Lesotho. Pronounced [Leh-SO-toh]. When I went, it was the first time I ever really felt free. This is my first time in Atlanta – actually my first time in America – and it is beautiful. Oh and, I’m here selling posters here all week.”
I felt moved by Trent’s profound words, and began to ask him what he felt like coming to Emory for the first time.
“This campus feels like home to me, and I’m not even a student,” he said. “I see that everyone holds themselves on this high platform, you know? But they do that because there are all so incredibly intelligent, and that is honorable. All the people here are so welcoming and kind, and the energy is thriving because of that. Like I said this is my first time in America, and well, this experience has been awesome.”
Trent’s perspective on Emory has shown me that this is a place in which we celebrate each other’s differences, while sharing the same core values of respect, kindness, and acceptance.
On my journey through the Freshman quad, past Alabama Hall and nearing Cox Hall, I found my next subject.
She is a junior here at Emory with a passion for Frosted Flakes. In her denim high waisted jeans and a tucked in forest green tee, I approached Laila and described my incentive for this project. She was immediately captivated and wanted to know more.
“I’m trying to gain perspective,” I began, “from a variety of students on campus about how they feel here at Emory, and what it’s really like to be a student here.”
Laila told me that she is a Junior here, and would love to contribute.
“Well, I don’t know… the whole aspect of “Oh wow – this is college!” has sorta worn off from Freshman year. It’s like, being here as a third year means really figuring out a path of where my life will take me, what I want to become, and how I can achieve that.”
Her words were insightful, as I, a mere first-year, am still feeling everything she said will eventually wear off. Mostly because myself, along with many of my peers, are still trying to figure out this whole aspect of college. But once you’ve been here for a couple of years, that is when you can truly discover your potential.
As she agreed to be photographed, I as well asked her to envision a happy place.
Laila’s eyes rolled up to the right, then the left, and back to me: “Hmmm, well my happy place is not necessarily a place: to me, it’s probably being with a particular person, one that can provide support and comfort when I really need them the most. Someone who I know cares deeply for me.”
Again, inspired by her words, I thanked Laila for her contribution and went on my way.
Later that day, I made my way back to Long-Street Means to find my next subject. He is a fellow first-year, and his name is Adi. I introduced myself and asked if he’d like to be a part in my series: Humans of Emory. Adi seemed fond of the idea and politely consented to a photograph.
I asked him to elaborate on what he deems Emory to be, and how he knew he’d fit in at this school.
“Emory is home.” he began. “I’m from Atlanta, so being here is practically home to me. I feel immediately welcomed everywhere I go… and the positive energy within the campus is really cool. I worked for my dad’s medical practice before I came to Emory; It was an opportunity that gave me ground to learn from him before starting school.”
I could sense that Adi’s appreciation for Emory stems from his proximity to home. As he has departed from his real home to our new community, he feels embraced in this engaging, stimulating environment.
As I made my way past LSM, through Asbury circle, across the construction zone and onto Dobbs Hall, I came across my fellow classmate: Chelby.
Chelby is a New Orleans raised student with a serious love for Gumbo. With the sun shining down at around 5:55pm, I asked if I could photograph her for Humans of Emory.
“Oh g-d,” she said, “I just came from swim practice with my wet hair, but sure. Go for it.”
I laughed and reassured her. “Okay great!” I said. “But first, can you think of a place that makes you happy?”
She smiled big and bold, and professed that it would “probably be somewhere in New Orleans.” “I’d say the only bad part about New Orleans… is the potholes,” she said. We both laughed. “But I would have to say on Canal Street. It’s a place with so many people, from so many different cultures, and probably has the biggest variety of cool, interesting people all in one area.”
I wasn’t necessarily shocked when she told me this, primarily because the first time we met she told me how much she loved NOLA, yet I was moved by her true emotion and gratitude for her hometown. Her home will forever hold a special place in her heart, and that was clear to me as we spoke.
I then asked her how she’s felt here at Emory, and what some positives are about being on campus: “I kinda love Emory,” she confessed, “I like the flexibility they gave us in [choosing] our schedules; it really made it easy to the find classes I wanted to take. I also really love how you can just write in a GroupMe, ask “what’s up?,” and see who’s down to come over or hang out.”
I related to Chelby in many ways, because I too feel that although we are a community of diverse individuals, everyone is open to meeting new people and making new friends. I appreciated Chelby’s contribution, thanked her, and parted ways. “See you Friday!” we said, as we waved our goodbyes.
I finally made my way into Dobbs Hall to find one of the Sophomore Advisors, also a fellow student in my Hebrew class, working on his laptop in the lounge.
“Hey Kenneth! Would you like to provide any insight into how how you like Emory thus far?” I asked.
He sat up from his chair and replied, “Definitely! As a second year, I’ve noticed how Emory fosters a special bond between community and the diversity of people here. I love the campus, and especially how it only takes you only about 15 minutes to walk from one place to the next. I also really love the Jewish presence on campus. I get to participate in events like Hillel and Chabad, which are both really cool.”
Kenneth’s diverse look at our university has illustrated the true essence of our opportunities here on campus. The expansion of ways to embrace and deepen your personal relationship with your culture, heritage, and language at Emory is quite unique.
As I exited the lounge and made my way out the double-doors, I ran into my good friend, Ashleigh. With a thirst for knowledge and a passion for cheesy flatbread pizza, (from Kaldi’s late night menu, of course) I began to ask her what she believes makes Emory so remarkable.
“I like it ‘cause it’s not that far away from my twin sister at UVA. I get to see her pretty often, and that’s really special. It was also comforting to know some people before I came… so moving in wasn’t as intimidating. I really really like Atlanta, and the food is so good too,” she politely answered.
I had an easier time talking with Ashleigh at first, not only because she is a true friend, but because of her incredible heart. She was open to conversation and was excited to be photographed.
“Jump!” I yelled jokingly.
But she did. And the results were nothing short of amazing. Primarily, because this photograph exudes the content and cheerful Ashleigh whom I’ve grown closer with these past couple of weeks. If you do know Ashleigh, get to know her better. If you don’t, then introduce yourself. You won’t regret it.
Nearing departure, I finally asked her what her happy place would be.
She got excited, and told me, “Driving around really late at night, blasting music in the car, especially after getting fast food with friends – usually McDonald’s. That makes me feel alive.”
I smiled and agreed. Who doesn’t love that? Ashleigh is someone who’s enthusiastic for life and all it has to offer. Here at Emory, she believes she can make her time worthwhile.
After leaving Ashleigh, I decided to head back into Dobbs to find someone on one of the floors to interview. I came across my pal, Yoni. LA born and raised, he embraces his laid-back fashion sense through his variety of vintage-style sneakers, lively bomber jackets, light wash denim jeans, and tops off his look with a simple black baseball cap and clear eye glasses.
Yoni seemed to be into my idea of Humans of Emory, and gladly posed for me in his favorite McDonald’s racer jacket.
“So, tell me, how does it feel to be attending Emory University?” I asked.
“I feel really lucky,” he began, “I think it’s really pretty here. But, sometimes I wish the people were friendlier. I love to make friends with anyone.”
“I understand,” I said. “So is it that you don’t feel we have friendly people on our campus?”
“No, I mean, everyone is super welcoming, it’s just that sometimes I wish that you could start up a conversation with someone on the street and become friends. I want more opportunities like that,” he added. “I’ve got a really big family – like 30 people on both sides – so I was used to being around a lot of people that I know and love.”
Yoni’s explanation resonated with me. Although we are a school of diverse, intellectual individuals, there is always a way to make friends and be a part of something new. Social connection and interaction is utterly the basis of life – so reach out to more people as you walk to class. Say hello to that person you always pass walking to your English 101 class; Start a conversation with that girl you’ve run into at the Ducling every week. There are always new chances for positive engagement.
As I once again exited the Dobbs double-doors, I walked around the construction zone of what was once the DUC, and made my way back to the fifth floor of LSM.
As the elevator doors slid open, I peered out in hopes of finding one of my final subjects. Just my luck, I ran into my Residential Advisor, Lily-Anne Michelle. As one of the most hilarious women I have ever had the chance to speak with, I was enamoured at how excited she was when telling her of my documentation series. She was thrilled to be a part in Humans of Emory, and followed up by shouting:
“WE GOT FAMOUS PEOPLE IN THE PENTHOUSE!!”
I laughed and felt delighted. I began to ask her, “Can you think of a place where you feel like your best self?”
She started to smile, a really big teeth filled smile, and then slowly dropped her cheekbones into a more forlorn look. I was curious as to what she was envisioning, so I asked.
“All I can think of is home,” she said, “I was born in a small city in West Africa, and then moved to Ghana as a child. I moved to Ohio at the age of 12 with my dad, because he got a job offer there.”
“How did you feel after moving? Did you think it was the right decision?” I asked.
“It was best for my family,” she added, “but I think about my hometown often. In fact, I think about Ghana almost every day.”
When she reminisced upon her favorite place, she maintained a bittersweet look of longing for the old home she once knew as a child, only to be left with sweet memories of the past. Yet, I learned more about Lily’s life experiences throughout this simple conversation and photograph, than I probably would have all year. Lily has inspired and reminded me of the importance of childhood memories in the homes we once knew, and how Emory has now taken on the role of welcoming us into this new stimulating environment – to change us for the better.
I then entered the lounge of the fifth floor, to find one of the funniest humans I’ve met here thus far: Ali. She was in the midst of a phone call with a friend when she saw my camera and said, “GIRL, that is so cool what are you doing?!”
I explained my motivation for my blog and she was infatuated.
“Hold up Sasha, she said while putting down her phone, “I’m about to get my photo taken, and you know how I love that stuff.”
As she peered out the window, looking onto the Freshman quad and Hamilton-Holmes Hall, I told her to picture a place where she feels free.
“Oh – that’s easy!” She noted.
“Definitely the beach in Puerto Rico, laying on a hammock, feeling the breeze with a cool drink in my hand. That’s where I’d like to be – always.” She even seemed to let go in that very moment of picturing her place in mind.
Ali is a strong willed, witty, intelligent girl who grew up here in Atlanta. She as well feels right at home here, similarly to Adi. She always wanted to be a part of Emory, primarily for our academics, and secondly because of the influential atmosphere in which we now live.
Before Ali ran off to the lounge to finish her phone call, my final subject came over to me and sparked an interest in what I was doing.
His first words to me were, “Hi, I’m Austin and I’m running for LSM president. Vote for me.” He spoke in an assertive tone.
With his piercing blue eyes, buttoned down polo, glasses, khakis, and patent leather loafers, he exuded quite the presidential look.
“How are you advocating your candidacy?” I asked.
“Just as I did before. Tell people to vote for me,” he added.
He eagerly agreed to a photograph as he sat perched on the windowsill of the fifth floor window.
After meeting Austin, along with the rest of my subjects, I have come to realize that we are all driven by some motivation in our lives: whether it be from our background culture, heritage, connecting with peers, or just wanting to change our world for the better.
I was a bit hesitant to start walking around campus initially with my camera, but I am extremely glad I did. I got the chance to encounter many people I did not already know, and learn a bit of insight into their lives, values, and emotions. One of the most important things I have recognized as a photographer is that diversity between my subjects is critical to creativity. Emory’s unique student body has allowed me to encounter a wide range of incredibly bright, interesting, uniquely peculiar individuals. Yet, we all come together as an open, appreciative community with vastly contradicting backgrounds. Everyone has a story – what’s yours?