In September of 2010, New York-based photographer Brandon Stanton started a side project he called “Humans of New York,” or HONY. Stanton’s idea was to create a visual catalog of the people living in New York. Photographing strangers he met on the street, Stanton soon began collecting their stories. The project showed a very human side of a city that can sometimes seem full of nameless faces. Since HONY started in 2010, hundreds of other photographers have followed Stanton’s example. There are Humans of Chicago, Humans of Austin, and even recently a Humans of Salt Lake.
So, why start a Humans of St. George (HOSG)? Since I moved here in 2010, I’ve noticed many divisions in St. George, and southern Utah by extension. But when it comes down to it, we’re all just people, and it’s a lot harder to place someone in that “other” category once you know them a little.
The goal of Humans of St. George is to help us see the humanity in each other, especially in those we see as different from ourselves. Project subjects are generally met on the streets of St. George and always asked the same five questions. “How did you end up in St. George (and/or) what has kept you here?” “Where do you fit in in St. George?” “How would you describe your personal sense of style?” (Can go deeper than clothing.) “How would you describe St. George to someone who has never been here?” “If you could have one wish for the St. George area, what would it be?”
I hope you enjoy this exploration of our community.
“My initial move into St. George came when my husband was hired at a local company. It was a big change from growing up in the Midwest and living most of my life in the northern part of the country. I love the countryside — a different beauty in each direction — and the climate (mostly). I’ve become quite accustomed to the warmer weather, seeking out a sweater when it hits 70 degrees. There is a unique mix of people and activities in the gorgeous backdrop of southern Utah. We had moved many times prior to coming to St. George, and with my kids getting older, I wanted some stability for them. That has been the most influential factor in staying here.
Honestly, I don’t feel that I fit in in St. George. But in all fairness, I’m not sure I have felt I fit in any of the (many) places I have lived. There have been times in the past when I had wanted and tried desperately to fit in. It is a painful thing, even when self-imposed, to fit into an existing place and attempt to gain acceptance for the parts of you that fit that mold and disregard the rest.
Some people are so quick to label and judge with that definition in mind. For example, mother of four — bam, a slew of expectations. Working mother of 4 — bam, even more. LDS — wham bam. You’ve got a significant list going now. Why do we do this? I know it’s partly human nature, but I don’t want to live someone else’s checklist. I’m changing and growing as a person and still figuring out my list that’s right for me.
So I think I make my own place, and that’s where I fit. It’s not that I don’t want to fit in but more that I don’t want to fit into a place someone else defines for me. It’s lonely sometimes and can still be painful, but I do have a few amazing friends who always let me come as I am.
I’ve always wanted to be individual, unique. Growing up in a very small Midwest town may have fueled some of that. I was fascinated by the ‘big city’ and all the things I didn’t get to see and do. Life experience has brought some new perspective on that front, but I haven’t ever lost my desire to be unique. I think I have an edgy, rock-n-roll style bordering on the rebellious … okay, sometimes crossing over into rebellious. I like to get dressed up sexy and sassy but also like men’s jeans and a graphic T-shirt and sneakers — I love Converse sneakers! I’m slightly obsessed with shoes period, and if you lose me shopping, that’s where you’re most likely to find me.
It’s a not-so-small town that is still having some growing pains. The climate is pleasant if a bit hot in July and August, but almost-year-round sunshine is pretty fantastic. There are lots of great people here. Compared to other places I have lived, the population seems more stratified here. Strong-held beliefs seem to fuel the divide. Whether it is pride in their heritage and ancestors or religious beliefs, these two categories will affect your experience here.
Natives born and raised here have a strong connection to the city and influence in government and economy. “Outsiders” seems to apply to anyone not born and raised here, no matter how long you live here. I remember working the senior games and an older man asked where I was from. I said, “St. George,” and he clarified — “Were you born here?” When I said “no,” he just shook his head and said, “Oh, you’re not native.” The condescending tone was strong, and I wondered, “How long do I have to live in a place to call it my home? To claim it as mine?”
Your religious affiliation also seems to be a dividing factor. Again, it seems a black-and-white question: LDS or not?
In reality, the question is not so simple, but that initial filter is a big obstacle for many … on both sides.
But, I repeat, there are lots of great people here. You have to dig a little further and work harder for it, but there are amazing people to be found.
I wish there was a more open-minded mutual respect and interest in those around you. Not just the ones around you that are “like” you.
Realize there is an amazing story behind each person. Their life experiences and beliefs will differ from yours. Each person walks their own path and experiences life differently. Imagine what you could learn if you just were willing to listen, to see, to understand even a fraction. It doesn’t threaten your beliefs to do this. Have pride in your heritage, that’s wonderful, but realize other people have heritage that they are equally proud of. Do you know anything about it? Aren’t you curious? I am. We live in a big amazing world! St. George is part of it. It doesn’t diminish our awesomeness by acknowledging the awesomeness in others.
I believe in the unlimited supply of awesome — it will never run out, expire, or evaporate. We all have it within us. I’ll show you mine if you show me yours!”