Daniel Yoo, '18

February 6, 2015
First-year student breaks down barriers while documenting the people of Richmond

As first-year students arrive on campus, a common conversation guides the subtle shift from stranger to roommate, classmate, or teammate. “What’s your major?” or “Where are you from?” or “Do you like your professor?” — these questions are asked and answered, again and again.

They’re comfortable, easy to answer. But Daniel Yoo, ’18, was never satisfied with the surface level. He wanted to get to know people on a deeper level.

It’s why Yoo started Humans of Richmond, inspired by the popular blog, Humans of New York. He photographs his fellow students, as well as staff and faculty, and the portraits are accompanied by quotes and stories that tell a story about the subject.

Take Kevin Corn, an area coordinator for Richmond College. Corn described a night in college when, as a resident assistant, he responded to a fellow student who was trying to hurt himself. Corn told Yoo the experience was one of the reasons he chose to work in residence life.

Scroll through the photos and other students and faculty members talk about losing family and having children, making mistakes and clinching big victories.

For some, approaching a stranger and asking such personal questions is an intimidating prospect. But Yoo doesn’t shy away from awkwardness. Maybe, he says, it’s because he immigrated to the United States at age seven and moved frequently growing up.

When meeting subjects for Humans of Richmond, he sets out to put his subjects at ease before asking questions like, what was the happiest moment of your life? Or what’s your biggest regret? Who is your biggest role model, or what are your plans for the future?

“It works best when I try not to give people direction as to what their answer should be,” Yoo says. “Things come up that I never could have anticipated. Approaching people with questions that are fairly deep, the questions that you usually don’t talk about with people outside of your immediate friend group, has added a lot of depth to how I see people here.”

That depth is just what Yoo was seeking in those early days on campus — and what he hopes resonates with others on campus who see a post and maybe connect with a fellow Spider they’ve only ever met in passing.

“Not all photographs resonate with everyone, but I think there’s always going to be at least one picture in the collection that someone in the crowd is going to be able to identify with,” Yoo says. “I think that’s the most appealing aspect. It doesn’t target any single demographic. It has potential for anyone to be able to connect with it.”