“Just imagine. One day, we might have a brand new world map. When clicked on any city, we would see its people: the ones that live there as well as those that are just passing by. A totally different way of ‘surfing’ a city…” That’s the scenario that inspired João Sá Leão to start the map of his hometown, Lisbon. Little strokes fell great oaks or, as the digital guru Clay Shirky puts it, “Revolution doesn’t happen when society adopts new technology, it happens when society adopts new behaviours”.
“Photographing people is perhaps the greatest challenge and the one that gives me more pleasure”, says João Sá Leão, founder of Humans of Lisbon.
Bastart: Humans of Lisbon too was inspired by HONY. How did it happen?
João: The idea came when I got unemployed and had more time to devote myself to photography, consulting sites and blogs on the subject. One day I came across Stanton’s page and thought, this is what I want to do. I looked for something similar in Portugal, found nothing and on the same day started my own Humans of Lisbon. First with photos already in my portfolio, and then, step by step, I ventured into photographing the complete strangers.
B: Is it difficult to talk people into posing for you?
J: It’s much easier to shoot strangers than one might think. People like to be photographed as they feel special. Now that The Sartorialist and other street photographers have broken the ice, people feel more confident in front of the camera.
As for the story though, it’s much more difficult to “steal” some minute and get people talk! But when it happens it’s fantastic. Many speak to me but do not want to say the name…. Curious!
B: Who are the people you choose to photograph?
J: It’s something inside me that makes a click. It may be a different face, a piece of clothing, a given situation but there is always something beautiful that delights me in the person I want to photograph.
At a certain point, I decided to “call” others to participate (check my Facebook page for more info), to get a greater coverage of the city. That’s because I cannot be everywhere at once. On the other hand, it is interesting and rewarding to observe the motivations of other photographers when they choose certain situations or individuals.
B: Humans of Lisbon in five words?
J: Get to know the city through its people.
B: Would you locate the “Humans of” phenomenon closer to Wikipedia or to Google Maps?
J: I think it’s still very far from achieving such greatness but it will certainly be a mix of genre. Something like a WikiMaps, just that focused on people.
“I got the photo but not the name. There’s still a lot of suspicion when we are honest to the point of asking to take pictures, when people are already used to being photographed without permission. After the photo:
“What’s your name?”
“My name? My name does not matter.”
“Chiado is one of the most emblematic and traditional neighborhoods of Lisbon and also one of the busiest and most cosmopolitan areas. I could not resist the cool look of Mr. Capitão Wilson and Diogo Marques, who allowed me to photograph them and therefore show the spirit of this area of the Portuguese capital.”
“I could not resist these three ladies when I saw them in the sun in Praça do Comercio. I ask to take a picture for the HOL, and after explaining what the project idea was, they consented but with many doubts. They said they would check it on Facebook. I really hope they liked!”
“Sometimes in the middle of all the fun of the carnival there are some who need more time to get used to the confusion.”For more information about Humans of Lisbon please visit the official Facebook page. For more information about the HO phenomenon read Ode to the Humans.
Words by Jurgita Po.Alessi