The Humans of Dublin project needs no introduction. Taking inspiration from the Humans of New York photographer Brandon Stanton, Peter Varga started the Humans of Dublin Facebook page a little over a year ago. The community has since grown to over 68,000 followers on Facebook alone. Features editor Sinéad Slattery sat down with Peter to talk about his work.
Sinéad: Did you ever do a photo project like this in your native Hungary?
Peter: No, I didn’t even have a proper camera back in Hungary – but I always loved photography. I actually got my first semi-professional camera only last year, two month before I started my photography course. It was a challenge from a photographer that started my journey and led me to Humans of Dublin.
I worked in a coffee shop. There was a regular customer who was a well-known photographer. We used to chat and he started teaching me about photography. Without realizing it, he became my mentor. He set a photography challenge for me. I had to create three photographs that captured feelings. That was the point when I first experienced a completely new side to photography. I enjoyed every moment and haven’t looked back since.
Sinéad: How do you approach people?
Peter: The most important thing is to approach people with positive energy, and to make eye contact. At the beginning I don’t say that I’m going to ask questions. I just say that I’m working on a photography project and I have to collect portraits of random people on the streets. After taking some photos, I show them, and that’s when I start chatting. I tell them that I have to connect a few sentences for each portrait and would they mind if I ask one or two questions? But I always try to focus on the natural, interactive conversation rather than just asking questions.
Sinéad: Do you remember the first person that you ever approached, and if so, what happened?
Peter: Yes, it was a street artist who drummed. He was playing on different everyday objects near the GPO. I was watching him for about twenty minutes until I gathered enough courage between performances to approach him. It went very well and grew my confidence. I decided to set a goal of three people for that day. I interviewed six people in about 2 hours. However it took a lot of practice to build my confidence to where it is now.
Sinéad: Out of every 10 people you ask: how many say yes, and how many of those photos go up on the page?
Peter: That’s an interesting question. About eight out of ten people say yes. That surprises some people but it’s true. These days I tend to approach less people, but spend much longer with them. It makes them feel more comfortable and generally leads to a better story. While I might have an 80% success rate I only use about 20% online. However I value every conversation and grow with every meeting.
Sinéad: Are there any particular stories that have stood out to you?
Peter: I don’t really have a favourite. Each story and picture shows you something new and reminds me how diverse and interesting Dublin is. Some of my favourites might surprise people, as they are not the most dramatic. However, keep in mind that I spend between ten and thirty minutes with each person and can only share a few sentences of the chat. That makes it a real challenge to capture the personality behind the story. Sometimes the simplest stories can be fascinating because of the storyteller.
Sinéad: Does it surprise you how open people are?
Peter: Yes, every single time. People think that you must have a special technique and brilliant questions to get people to open up so quickly but it’s actually more about your energy, being naturally curious and creating a friendly conversation.
Sinéad: Is this a full-time job for you and if not, what do you work as?
Peter: Yes, this is my full-time job. I also do event photography part-time. I grew HOD to where it is by putting all of my free time and passion into it. I’m planning to create a book of the best interviews. At the moment I’m looking for designers and publishers, so if anyone is interested in getting involved or knows someone who would be, get in touch.
Sinéad: What is the Dublin 2020 campaign and why did you get involved in it?
Peter: It’s about making Dublin a greater place for everyone who lives, works, studies, visits and plays in the city. It’s all about social change and giving Dublin back to the people. It’s really exciting. I’m very proud to be part of it and think if Dublin wins the European Capital of Culture some amazing changes will happen. The energy, passion, ideas and drive behind making Dublin a more inclusive, connected and people-centered home are inspiring.
The Dublin2020 team reached out to HOD because I try to show how everyone is special and has a story. It’s the characters and diversity in Dublin that makes it such a special place. The Dublin2020 team wants to strengthen that and show it to the world. I really hope everyone gets behind it. Without people joining #TeamDublin the opportunity will pass and the great ideas for making Dublin ever better could vanish. If you are part of Dublin you are part of Dublin2020. Check out www.dublin2020.eu and follow the story on social media too.
Sinéad: Do you have any tips for aspiring photographers / bloggers?
Peter: 1. Believe in yourself and your project.
2. Get a mentor, and some idols to follow.
3. Read ‘Steal Like an Artist’ by Austin Kleon
4. Go out and do it!
5. Share your work! Don’t wait till you think it’s perfect!